IN DEPTH: Tristan Smith Where are Westminster's Greens?

IN many ways, the Green Party is in good shape in Westminster after coming within 50 votes of beating the Tories at the Queen s Park by-election recently. This surprise result was made sweeter by rumours that it had sparked a massive row in the local Cons

Sanchez Manning

IN many ways, the Green Party is in good shape in Westminster after coming within 50 votes of beating the Tories at the Queen's Park by-election recently.

This surprise result was made sweeter by rumours that it had sparked a massive row in the local Conservative association over their embarrassingly poor performance.

But as a self-confessed "political realist", the Greens' parliamentary candidate for Westminster North, Tristan Smith, still knows that his chances of victory are highly unlikely.

In the last general election, the 34-year-old got 4.2 per cent of the vote when he stood for the Cities of London and Westminster seat within a year of graduating from university.

In Regent's Park and Kensington North - the constituency set to become Westminster North under the planned boundary changes - his fellow Green Paul Miller secured almost five per cent.

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But it is the local elections which Mr Smith says are the real prize.

The Green Party's view is that, while there are a handful of parliamentary seats which are potentially winnable, their best hopes for success lie locally.

It's with this in mind that Mr Smith is also canvassing for election as a councillor in Camden's Highgate ward.

And he is not alone, since all his party's parliamentary candidates are doing the same.

Explaining the thinking behind this two-pronged strategy, he said: "I'm a realist in politics and my argument is that every single green vote is a crystal clear message that we can't keep burying our head in the sand about climate change.

"When I'm on the doorsteps, a lot of people say that we're not voting for you because you won't win.

"So I don't pretend to people that we're going to get elected at the general election - it's more about sending out a message.

"But it's at the local elections that we can really do something and might get elected."

In one sense, Mr Smith has good reason to be sanguine about his chances in the locals considering that Highgate currently has three Green Party councillors.

In another, his optimism stands starkly at odds with the announcements last week from five of Camden's leading eco-councillors - including two members of his own party - that they were stepping down in May.

Perhaps more worrying is the admission by Camden's "eco-champion" Alexis Rowell that one of the reasons he decided to leave local politics was his "frustration" with the council's endemic slowness in enacting environmental policies.

Mr Smith agrees that the bureaucracy of local government can make the process of pushing through green legislation laborious.

But equally he believes that the only way to make sure that climate change remains high on council agendas is for more members of his party to be elected.

"It is the same with Camden Council and Westminster. While they have both made progress, it's slow," he said.

"The way councils work, is it takes time and sustained pressure to make things happen.

"That's why it's important to have green councillors at all levels and over many years so they can see things through.

"The fantastic thing that the Greens have been able to do in Camden is to get issues put on the table.

"That is where Camden is slightly further ahead of Westminster.

"I think Westminster has suffered by not having any green councillors because - while the Labour councillors have done a great job - we can make more of a difference through the lobbying and networking we do."

Mr Smith takes housing in Westminster as an example to make his point.

"In Westminster, there's huge amount of pressure with social housing and there's a massive amount of work we need to do," he said.

"We need something called the PassivHaus standard, which if all new housing reached this benchmark would mean fuel bills will be next to nothing. If we were on the council, that's what we'd be fighting for."

Despite such rhetoric, the practically-minded politico admits that a green councillor in Westminster may be some years off.

"I think we're looking at 2014," he said. "We've made some progress in Westminster but realistically with the first past the post system it's going to take more time.

"If you look at Highgate - that took eight years to achieve. But the fact that we now have a candidate standing in every ward is the first step to people knowing that Westminster Green Party is a serious party.

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