After a tumultuous 48 hours of voting and counting, the political map of the South East has been redrawn and the signs are that climate is on the agenda like never before. This year’s #ABCDPledge campaign saw an unprecedented 277 local election candidates pledge to take action on the climate emergency, of whom almost half were elected. Due to the electoral swings many of these are now in a position of power. This blog by Thalia Griffiths looks at the election results and what happens next.
This year’s ABCD Climate and Nature pledge campaign for the local elections received a stunning level of support. Some 277 candidates for district councils in Kent, Hampshire and Sussex registered their commitment, and almost half (131, or 47%) were elected. They have pledged to press their council to: Accelerate action, Boost partnerships, Communicate, and Divest from fossil fuels.
The list of candidates who signed the 2023 ABCD Pledge can be found here, or by clicking the image. The pledge photo gallery is here.
There have been some major electoral swings in the South East. Here are some of the headlines where ABCD pledging candidates are now in positions of potential influence:
- In Canterbury the Conservatives lost control of the District Council; there is now no overall control and of those elected there were 13 Labour pledgers, plus 1 Lib Dem and 1 Green pledger.
- In Chichester the Lib Dems won control, where there was no overall control before. 20 Lib Dem pledgers were elected and 1 Green.
- In Horsham the Lib Dems gained control from the Conservatives, with 24 Lib Dem pledgers, 8 Green Party pledgers and 1 Conservative pledger elected.
- In Lewes there is still no overall control, but a huge swing away from the Conservatives toward Green and Lib Dem (including 6 Green and 1 Lib Dem pledger)
- In Mid Sussex the Conservatives lost overall control, and 7 Lib Dem pledgers and 1 Green pledger were elected.
- In Rother there is still no overall control, but both Labour and Greens made gains, including 7 Labour and 2 green pledgers.
- In Wealden the Conservatives lost control to no overall majority, 8 Green Party pledgers were elected.
- In Brighton and Hove Council the Labour party is now in control, with 2 Labour pledgers and 6 Green.
- In Worthing the Labour party has retained control, including 7 Labour pledgers and 1Green.
- In other districts parties with pledging candidates also made gains – for example the Green party in Arun, East Hants, Folkestone and Sevenoaks; and the Greens and Lib Dems in Havant.
The breakdown of successful candidates by party is shown in the graphic below:
Last year’s campaign attracted 111 pledgers, of whom just 27% were elected. This year, voting took place in many more districts. Roughly half of the pledgers were Green Party candidates, Liberal Democrat pledgers made up about a third, and Labour around a fifth. Surrey candidates were not approached this year.
Overall, just three Conservatives signed up in the whole of the South East, all in Horsham. While this is three times as many as in the 2022 elections, it is still startlingly low. But what’s really important is that so many ABCD pledgers were elected, whom we can now remind and encourage to work for the climate on their councils.
More than half of the pledges came from West Sussex. Take-up was particularly high in Horsham where the pledge campaign across the district was coordinated by Sussex Green Living. A remarkable 84 candidates signed up, of whom 33 were elected. Other strong performers were Brighton & Hove, where 33 signed up, Chichester with 26, Canterbury with 25, Mid Sussex with 18 and Worthing with 17.
Speaking at a Sussex Green Hub pledge event in Horsham on 29 April, SECA’s Tony Whitbread said signing the ABCD pledge was an important statement of political will. “We know what to do but we don’t do it. So this is actually down to political will, pure and simple, and very importantly, it’s cross-party political will – there’s nothing less party political than the environment,” he said. “Please sign the pledge, and please actually do something about it. Accelerate action, build partnerships, communicate about climate change, and, as a specific, divest from fossil fuels. If we cut off the tap for money for fossil fuels, things will change.”
Some of these seats were last contested when Teresa May was prime minister, which seems like a lifetime ago now. Many wards were voting the first time since Covid, which made many of us spend more time in nature close to home. And while sometimes the scale and gravity of the climate crisis can make it hard to engage people, recent headlines about the scale of river and sea pollution have made green issues much more immediate and relatable.
A key element in the success of the pledge campaign, as in previous years, was the invaluable support from SECA member groups. The campaign seemed to attract more social media engagement in previous years, with candidates and parties picking up on our posts, and making their own composite photos of pledgers. In its fifth year of operation the pledge seems to have won brand recognition and it was encouraging to have party campaigners tell us how much they value it.
So what comes next? It’s more important than ever to hold our pledgers to account. In past years we’ve monitored councils’ climate plans and we’re now collaborating with Climate Emergency UK in assessing the actions councils are taking towards net zero. But encouraging individual councillors is important too, and we’re planning an email campaign in the autumn to remind them of their pledge and ask how it’s going. As ever, the role of SECA local groups will be key.