Remainer MEP Ellie happy to ride green wave as long as it lasts
“This year we have seen a real green wave. People are finally waking up to the urgency of the climate crisis.”
Ellie Chowns is reflecting on a good few months for the Green Party, which saw her elected as the West M idlands first MEP as the party came from nowhere to become a force to be reckoned with in the European Parliament.
On top of landing 1.8 million votes in the Euro elections – enough to secure seven seats – the Greens more than doubled their number of local councillors on the back of an unprecedented membership surge.
That success is a reflection of the party’s “hard work at a local level”, according to Mrs Chowns, who says the reputation of Green Party politicians for “getting things done” had started to pay dividends in areas such as the West Midlands.
“A Green vote is not such an ideological vote, it’s a vote for someone who people know is rooted in the community and cares about the local issues that people care about,” she tells the Star.
“That reputation we have at a local level creates a springboard for success at bigger scale elections.”
Mrs Chowns says that while the Greens key message on climate change was starting to resonate with the British public, people are also starting to see that they were more than just “a party of the environment”.
“We have a really strong social justice message,” she says.
“We have been consistently anti-austerity and have campaigned for a fairer society, for action on tax evasion and better public services.
“These sort of issues are so relevant to people in the West Midlands.
“As the traditional parties vacate space in the political arena, the Green message is coming over more and more strongly.”
From Surrey to Ledbury
Born in the South East, mother-of-two Mrs Chowns grew up around Surrey and Hampshire and now lives in the West Midlands in Ledbury.
She has been involved in international development for most of her career, working in Uganda and Malawi before taking on a lecturing role in the subject at the University of Birmingham, from where she is now on unpaid leave.
The 44-year-old is no career politician, having only joined the Greens four years ago because of a desire to turn her concerns for the environment into political action.
Prior to becoming an MEP she was elected as a councillor in Hereford in 2017, and stood as a parliamentary candidate that year.
“I just thought I couldn’t stand on the sidelines any longer and needed to be involved in politics, where the decisions are being made,” she said.
She says she was elated to be elected and is proud to represent the West Midlands in Europe.
And as a new MEP – who may only be in position for a few months should Britain leave the EU at the end of October – she’s determined to make the most of her time in Brussels.
A big part of that is to smash the “misinformation and misunderstanding” of the EU in the West Midlands – a mission she concedes is no easy task in an area dominated by the Brexit Party.
“The West Midlands had the highest Leave vote and we have three out of seven MEPs from the Brexit Party,” she says.
“But it is also clear that there is not a majority in this country for a ‘no deal’ Brexit. We’re a country that is known for openness and tolerance.
“Many people voted for Brexit because they were fed up with the establishment and fed up with the way politics had been done in this country for many years.
“The problem with the Brexit Party’s arguments is that they blame all the problems in this country on the EU. That clearly isn’t the case.
“We have problems of inequality, of people being left behind, but they are not the fault of foreigners.
“They are things we have to sort out ourselves.”
Her efforts to shift opinion will see her spend her five-week summer recess reaching out to communities across the region.
“I’ll be working my socks off, talking to as many people as possible, telling them how the EU really works,” she says, keen to promote the virtues of the bloc.
“The idea that there is some cabal of unelected bureaucrats making policy in Brussels is simply untrue, and is the sort of misrepresentation I want to counter.
“We live in an era of soundbyte politics where false outrage is created – particularly by ‘hard’ Brexiteers, and they are not making an effort to connect with people and explain how politics works.
"The European Parliament represents over 500 million people from 28 countries. It is more complex than soundbytes. As MEPs we have to make the effort to communicate that to people."
Mrs Chowns also wants to stop Brexit, insisting that only a second referendum can heal the divisions that have festered since the 2016 referendum.
“The country is still divided, but the polls are very clear – there is a lead for Remain. We do need a second referendum,” she says.
“We know the Leave campaign lied, we have detailed information about how damaging Brexit would be to our economy, the tide of public opinion has changed.”
She says the Tory leadership campaign saw Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt trying to “outdo each other to prove who was the most ‘hard Brexit’”, and warned there would certainly be no easy solution to the issue under the new Prime Minister.
“The only way out of this mess is a second referendum,” she says. “Put it back to the people now that we are much better informed.”
She says claims that the rise of minority parties in this year’s elections were little more than a protest vote are “completely wrong”, insisting that the Greens are in position to make inroads despite being hampered by an electoral system which has reduced voters to a “binary choice” in national elections.
“We are seeing a real fracturing of our political system in this country,” she adds. “As the Conservative Party tears itself into pieces, and as Labour fails to provide the leadership in opposition that is so desperately needed, the space for the Green Party opens up.”
And with the Greens are now the fourth largest political group in the EU Parliament, Mrs Chowns reckons they have a real opportunity to turn their key messages into policy.
“We have a chance to push the bigger parties into turning their warm words into real action,” she says, before outlining her main hopes from her time as an MEP – to keep the UK in the bloc and to deliver policies that will address the climate emergency.
“I would like to continue to serve as an MEP beyond the end of October,” she says, more in hope than expectation.
“The biggest challenge we face – the climate crisis – is not something we can solve on our own. Only if we stay in the EU can we turn our attention to the problems that need solving here at home.
“Four months ago we were not even expecting to have European elections. Politics is so volatile you just don’t know what is going to happen.”