During 1974 and the first half of 1975 the focus of PEOPLE was on organising and contesting seats in the General Elections, at first the significance of local elections does not appear to have been fully understood. Following the change of name to The Ecology Party during 1975 the decision was taken to contest local elections
Local elections were first contested in 1976 as the newly formed Ecology Party. The first electoral successes for the new party were achieved in May 1976 when John Davenport was elected to the parish council in Kempsey, Worcestershire and John Luck managed to win a seat on Rother District Council in Sussex.
Local elections in the UK can be strange affairs, often local and personality issues matter more than party politics. Parish Councils, the lowest level of local government, are frequently completely non-political and generally candidates are well known in their community. John Davenport's achievement was to enter this cosy world with a party label and still get elected.
Even at district council level, the next tier above parishes, despite being slightly more party-political elections are often as much about which other parties have managed to put up candidates and how many friends and family you have living in the ward as on your political allegiance. In John Luck's case Rye ward has three councillors and he came third in a five way contest.
By 1977 more branches had come into being and some excellent results were achieved, including the first Ecology County Councillor - albeit returned unopposed.This report is taken from The Ecologist June 1977 issue (vol 7 no 5)
In the Cornwall County Council election Jeremy Faull was elected unopposed after his opponent in a two-way fight when the sitting member withdrew saying that he could not fault the policies on which Jeremy was standing. Elsewhere in Cornwall significant press interest was generated (local and some national) and possibly because of the local branch's strong links with both the Ecologist (based in Cornwall) and with the new Cornwall Conservation Forum some good results were obtained. Cornwall had four other candidates - John Bamford in Bodmin came fifth out of eleven candidates in a hotly contested fight for two seats in the ward. Teddy Goldsmith polled 23% in Wadebridge in a three way fight with two "independents". Dick Smythe in St.Stephens division got 35% in a two way contest with another independent, and Sally Wilmington picked up 8% in Menheniot - an area that The Ecologist described as "almost feudally committed to a local family"! (as an editorial aside this was still the case when I contested a seat in the adjacent ward in the 2007 Caradon District election - RCO)
The Leeds branch in West Yorkshire fielded six candidates with the best performance coming from David Corey getting 6% in a three way fight in Garforth. Also in Leeds Steve Waldenburg stood on a joint Ecology/Liberal ticket against the big two parties and managed to avoid the squeeze on the Liberal vote that happened everywhere else. Three other Leeds wards and one in Bradford were contested with results between 2 and 4%.
West Midlands branch stood in four wards. Peter Sizer in Birmingham Sparkhill - a ward with typical inner city problems was pleased to get 2.3%. In Walsall , where the party's name was already known from the parliamentary by-election, John Duff gained 182 votes. In Sandwell Wednesbury Market, limited time for campaigning and the mood of a depressed area showing a swing to the right , probably accounted for Peter Rout's disappointing 0.6% of the vote. In Birmingham Selly Oak, Jonathan Tyler received 572 votes, only 48 short of the Liberals in a four way contest.
The London and Sussex results were both promising. Jonathan Porritt , coming in at the last moment was fifth out of seven with 298 votes. In rural Cuckmere in Sussex, Beryl Bowser, having fought as an Independent last year, gained 19% in a straight fight with a Conservative.
Finally in Essex Ben Percy-Davis achieved 1,269 votes (but failed to win a seat) in the big Hornchurch division on his 'People and Agrarian' ticket which had strong affinities with the Ecology Party. Percy-Davis was well known in the area having previously alerted the community to a potential toxic waste problem at a children's playground in 1975 and also having stood in both the 1974 general elections as a PEOPLE & Agrarian candidate.
Thus by the summer of 1977 the Ecology party could claim to have sitting councillors at every tier of local government - Jeremy Faull on Cornwall County, John Luck on Rother District, and John Davenport on Kemsey Parish.