A GREEN surge is predicted in South Tyneside at the general and local elections in May as the party confirmed it was putting up candidates in every borough ward for the very first time.
Mother-of-one Shirley Ford, who lives in South Shields, was the Green Party candidate in the town at the 2010 General Election.
On that occasion she attracted 762 votes – 2.1 per cent of the poll, finishing a distant fifth behind the victor, Labour’s David Miliband.
But the political climate has changed dramatically in the five years since.
Her party in particular has seen a surge of popularity and Mrs Ford believes she has every chance of polling in double figures on Thursday, May 7.
The administrative assistant at Marine Park Primary School in South Shields is also convinced that the candidates set to represent the party across all 18 wards in the borough are the most diverse.
She said: “We are going to have a full slate of candidates. I can confirm that.
“We’ve been delighted at the interest generated and the number people who have come forward, many for the first time.
“Our candidates range from young people – students and apprentices – to people who are retired, from people working in health, in education and those working in environmental science.
“I’m not claiming we have the youngest candidate because I know Labour has a particularly young representative in Hebburn, but I can’t imagine any party has such a diverse range of candidates.”
Mrs Ford believes the Green input in a series of local issues has helped raise the party’s profile.
As an example she cited its intervention against Harton Technology College applying for academy status.
The Greens’ efforts to stage clean-ups in the town’s “rather unloved” Readhead Park and create a ‘friends of the park’ group there have also improved the public perception, Mrs Ford says.
She added: “Attracting more than ten per cent of the vote is, I believe, a realistic goal.
“It was difficult in the past when we had only a handful of local candidates and a much smaller membership base and we were running a much less ambitious campaign.
“We had a great response at the Westoe by-election last October and that has continued since.
“Tony Bengtsson will once again be our candidate there and the reaction when knocking on doors has been very positive. There is no predicting this election. The opinion polls suggests there are many people undecided on how to cast their vote.
“There can be a Green surge and even if we don’t win a ward, second finishes would leave us in a very good position.
“It’s something we could build on in future campaigns.”
The other candidates standing in South Shields are: Gita Gordon (Liberal Democrat); Emma Lewell-Buck (Labour); Robert Oliver (Conservative); and Norman Dennis (UKIP).