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Is Watford’s Green party heading for dose of the blues?
For the last decade, part of Watford has been in the grip of a political insurgency. Since the early noughties, the Green Party has defied political gravity and turned the Callowland area into a solid electoral enclave. It is an eye-catching phenomenon for any town in a country dominated by an electoral system weighted in favour of the larger parties.
Yet in recent years, the Greens have not just upset the usual political order in this part of Watford but completely upended it as its candidates have won a succession of landslide victories.
One of the architects of this unlikely success story is former councillor and Green leader, Steve Rackett.
He started his political life as a member traditional Liberal Party but left when it joined with the SDP in the 1980s to form the Liberal Democrats. He later joined the Greens and was a councillor in Portsmouth before moving to Watford around 20 years ago.
When Mr Rackett became involved in Watford politics he knew the Green Party had its work cut out if it was ever to become more than a paper presence in the town’s elections. At the time he calculated the Greens had roughly only a tenth of the resources of the main parties.
This meant they could fight all seats across the town at a sharp disadvantage, or they could focus all their efforts on one council ward and make it a fair fight.
As Mr Rackett lived in Callowland, it was the natural battleground. It was this strategy of concentration that yielded such impressive dividends.
The Green surge started in 2003 when the party took its first Watford Borough Council seat from Labour in Callowland.
In the next six elections it has taken - and held - its three borough council seats in the ward winning more than 50 per cent of the vote, albeit with the exception of 2010 General Election year when the three main parties enjoyed an inflated turn out.
It also took the Callowland Leggatts division on Hertfordshire County Council in 2005 and held it in 2009.
However, this week Mr Rackett resigned as a borough councillor after getting a job outside of the county.
His departure signals the start of a precarious period for the party in Watford.
A worrying harbinger for the Greens is Labour’s swelling support in the area. The party has captured two seats in the neighbouring Leggatts ward in recent years and is keen to complete the hatrick this May.
Likewise, last year it took the county council division of Leggatts and Callowland from the Green party.
This year Callowland is one of Labour’s target areas and Mr Rackett’s resignation means two of its borough seats are now in play.
If Labour converts its growing strength in the area into a double gain, it would mean see Green’s political presence in culled from four seats (three borough and one county) to just one in two years.
The Green Party needs a strong showing to stave off the rising threat from Labour. If the party collapses in May, it will go from being a robust minority in the town to an endangered species.