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‘It’s not a functional system’: Greens’ warning as party repeats 2014 success

‘For the party to hold a seat at the epicentre of Corbynism is beyond amazing’

11 May, 2018 — By Samantha Booth

Caroline Russell and members of the Green Party which raised its vote share in the election by 90 per cent

THE only opposition councillor elected to the Town Hall at Thursday’s local elections has warned Labour’s near-total domination will lead to a dysfunctional council.

The Greens’ Caroline Russell wants a meeting with Labour council leader Richard Watts and chief executive Lesley Seary to see what support she can get to carry out the task of scrutiny.

With her party short of the two councillors needed to gain “group” status on the council, Cllr Russell does not even qualify for a desk at the Town Hall. “It’s not a functional system with just one opposition councillor,” she said. “And there has to be a way to engage residents much more and more meaningfully in the council’s processes of governance.”

The final set-up of 47 Labour councillors versus one Green is a repeat outcome of the 2014 election.

“On a personal level it’s pretty grim to be facing another four years on my own in the council chamber without any colleagues,” said Cllr Russell, who held her seat in Highbury East. “But we were up against one of the toughest election fighting machines in the country. And we were right at the epicentre of Corbynism. So for the Green Party to hold a seat in those circumstances is beyond amazing.”

Islington Council leader Richard Watts

She added: “I think that the Green vote was affected after 2015 when a lot of people we used to call Corbyn Greens, who voted for us in local elections and Jeremy in national elections, left the Green Party and joined Labour.”

Cllr Russell has previously supported calls for a proportional representation system in local elections, rather than the current first past the post (FPTP) system.

“With a FPTP system, there are no prizes for coming second,” she said. “You have to target wards, and I expect our vote share across Islington has gone down. But in Highbury East we have shown we can raise our vote share by 90 per cent in one election and I am so grateful to all of the people who have put their trust in me to represent their interests in the council.”

Cllr Watts said Labour had over the past four years been as “generous as possible” in giving Cllr Russell more rights than she is entitled to by law, such as being able to sit on committees. He said Labour was open to scrutiny, but challenge to policy also came from the public.

“We would not have got the result we did if people didn’t think we were a listening council and it’s absolutely critical to us to carry that on,” said the council leader.

“However, I would also say having opposition on the council has never been the main way we’ve been scrutinised. You’ve got 47 Labour councillors who are all champions of their local communities who will stand up for their constituents and we’ve had some very robust internal conversations about what the council is doing.”

He added: “As well as Caroline, there’s a very active civil society in the borough who will let us know if they don’t agree with what we are doing, and I encourage that debate and discussion.”

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