UK Politics

2013 council elections: Green Party launches campaign

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Media captionNatalie Bennett predicts Green wins in Essex, Cornwall and Surrey

The Green Party of England and Wales has launched its campaign for next month's council elections in England, stressing its opposition to welfare cuts and support for the green belt.

The party is fielding 1,000 candidates in elections to 27 county councils and unitary authorities on 2 May.

In the equivalent elections in 2009, it had 17 councillors elected.

Party leader Natalie Bennett told the BBC that she was "confident of a good showing" in two weeks' time.

It will be Ms Bennett's first campaign as party leader after she succeeded MP Caroline Lucas in the role in September.

'Local economies'

The party is defending seats in traditional strongholds such as Oxfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, as well as other areas in southern England and the Midlands. It is also contesting two seats it won for the first time in Lancashire in 2009.

Ms Bennett said she expected the party to pick up its first ever seats in Essex, Cornwall and Surrey and improve its position in the West Midlands and Bristol, where it is already represented.

The Greens are making their opposition to government welfare cuts - including housing benefit caps dubbed by critics as the "bedroom tax" - a central theme of their campaign as well as emphasising their support for a "living wage" for low-paid workers and 20mph speeds limits on more roads.

"We are speaking up for a different kind of economy," she told BBC Two's Daily Politics.

"We are saying globalisation and neo-liberalism has hit its limits. We are saying we need strong local economies built around small businesses and shops. We are speaking up for a whole range of things and speaking against the government's cuts and speaking up for proper services."

The Greens are also campaigning against the environmental damage done by the building of waste incinerators - a major local issue in some areas - and calling for housing developments on green belt land to be blocked and the money spent instead on the renovation of 720,000 currently empty properties.

'Resonating'

Ms Bennett rejected suggestions the party's message was out of step with the economic reality facing the UK and the concerns of hard-pressed families.

"I think concerns about low-paid jobs, concerns about big supermarkets coming in and scooping out local high streets and losing all those small businesses are concerns which very much resonate with voters.

"Many Green councillors up and down the country are fighting to ensure people affected by the 'bedroom tax' do not face eviction: all of those are issues which are very much pressing on people's lives today."

The Green Party has been extending its presence in local government in recent years, gaining 40 seats - a net increase of 11 - in last year's elections. It also made a national breakthrough in 2010 when Ms Lucas became the party's first MP.

David Cameron launched the Conservative campaign on Friday while Labour and the Lib Dems have already started campaigning.

The UK Independence Party has also begun its push for a breakthrough in local government.

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