We’re in the final week of the Welsh, Scottish and local election campaigns and, quite frankly, I’m on tenterhooks.
I was helping out Leicester Green Party this weekend. No pedalling myself around this time – oh no. I was transported up from the station in a swanky rickshaw eco-cab, to visit shops and knock on doors in Castle ward, which is officially the most marginal ward in the country for the Greens.
Four years ago, our candidate failed to be elected after reaching a tie with the Labour candidate for third place in a three-councillor ward, enduring four recounts, and then watching as the other candidate’s name was drawn from a hat. After all that, Green lead candidate Matt Follett and his team have been working hard to make sure they win with votes to spare on Thursday.
This time next week, the political map of the UK could be very different. Last year Labour lost control of several councils they had run for decades, including Camden where I live, and now a virtual meltdown in Scotland doesn’t seem out of the question. The Scottish Greens are being talked about as a potential partner in a new government.
Unusually for an election campaign, there’s lots of talk about green issues in the media. I have never been busier, and top of the list is of course bins. The rush for councils to make their recycling targets in the face of a steep increase in landfill tax next year, has meant nearly a third are going for the ‘panic button’ option of cutting mixed waste collections to alternate weeks, in the hope this will force people to recycle more.
This has left many households hanging onto their food waste (rarely collected by councils for recycling) for a fortnight, with some unpleasant results. I was called onto Newsnight to argue with ‘shock jock’ James Whale, which was fun. Although he wasn’t exactly engaging in sensible debate, (“Green – isn’t that something that comes out of your nose?”) I do have some sympathy for the campaigners – and not a lot of sympathy for councils that are playing catch-up after failing to invest in full recycling before now.
It seems it’s not just the media who have got the environment high on their agenda. Polling organisation MORI ask the public every month what they think ‘the most important issues facing Britain’ are. It’s an open question – people don’t choose from a list – and the results are classified into groups such as prices, education, defence, etc. afterwards.
You can look at MORI’s results going back to 1974 on their website. Anything relating to pollution and the environment has only been given its own category since 1988, but the results since then make fascinating reading. After reaching the heady heights of 35 percent (ahead of everything else) in July 1989 and staying mainly above 20 percent for another year, the growing recession of the early 1990s sent green issues back to the bottom of the pile for a while.
But, since 2003, there has been a sure and steady rise. A couple of big jumps in the past few months has seen nearly 20 percent of people bring up environmental concerns for the first time in ages, and it’s now figuring almost as high as education.
What this means for Thursday’s polls I don’t know. We’re expecting a record result above 10% as I mentioned last week, but that’s just based on election results a year ago and our canvassing. Thursday might prove even more exciting than we imagine.