Councillor quits Labour to join Greens

Charith Gunawardena becomes eighth councillor to leave Enfield Council’s Labour group in last year, reports James Cracknell

Enfield's Green Party councillor, Charith Gunawardena
Enfield’s new Green Party councillor, Charith Gunawardena

Enfield has its first-ever Green Party councillor – after another member quit the Labour group.

Charith Gunawardena, who represents Southgate ward, becomes the eighth Labour councillor to either quit the party or resign as a councillor in the last 12 months.

In his resignation statement Cllr Gunawardena said the Labour leadership at the civic centre had made “many irresponsible choices”, citing issues such as affordable housing, high council debt and fly-tipping.

Cllr Gunawardena said: “I will continue to serve Southgate, but now as a councillor representing the Green Party, whose policies for a sustainable society incorporate key principles to tackle the climate crisis and deliver social justice.

“These are things I campaigned for and will continue to defend on behalf of Enfield’s residents. I strongly believe this to be the best way to serve my constituents.

“Unfortunately, I have recently felt restrained from championing the core needs of local residents as a Labour councillor and have decided to resign.”

Cllr Gunawardena said tackling the housing crisis was his key priority. “There are not enough genuinely affordable homes being built, especially family-sized homes, there are high levels of overcrowding, long waiting lists, and too many people in temporary accommodation.

“The borough must also play its part in responding to the environmental crisis, which will only successfully be achieved by offering considered, meaningful and evidence-based responses and policies.”

Cllr Gunawardena added that he was seeking “an inclusive political culture supporting open, honest and transparent policy discussions to reach solutions that benefit residents”.

Several other former Labour councillors who have quit in the last year have made similar comments about feeling unable to shape council policy. Five of them are part of a new political group on the council, Community First, and while Cllr Gunawardena opted to join the Greens, he has also now said he would be part of the Community First grouping on the council.

Dinah Barry, Community First group leader, said: “Cllr Gunawardena has worked hard to support his residents and the community in Southgate ward and has been fearless in his pursuit of openness about the council’s flagship Meridian Water project which appears to be falling some distance short of the council’s stated aspirations.”

Cllr Gunawardena added: “As a member of the Green Party, I will be better placed to scrutinise and challenge decisions that will have a lasting environmental and social impact in the borough for decades to come, and defend processes essential for preserving strong local democracy.”

Sian Berry, the Green Party’s co-leader and London Assembly member who also polled third behind Sadiq Khan and Shaun Bailey in the recent mayoral election, said: “I am thrilled to have Charith join our growing team of councillors across the country and in London.

“Greens across our city will benefit from his experience and enthusiasm, and we will support his efforts to win greater transparency in major developments and council scrutiny across all issues affecting our citizens.”

At three Enfield Council by-elections held this month, the Green Party’s vote share rose by an average of 5.3%. Across the country, the party won an additional 99 seats, while also achieving its best-ever results at London City Hall.

An Enfield Green Party spokesperson said: “Charith is a great ambassador for our community and we are looking forward to working closely with him for the benefit of Enfield. We have been immensely impressed by his grasp of the issues and ability to communicate with and involve local people.”

This Thursday, councillors are due to vote on a ‘no confidence’ motion in the Labour administration, which has been tabled by the opposition Conservatives. At least seven of Labour’s remaining 39 councillors would need to vote with the Tories for it to pass.

Council leader Nesil Caliskan said: “Cllr Gunawardena represents a ward in Enfield Southgate and not Edmonton which is where the Meridian Water development is happening, delivering thousands of affordable homes for local residents. 

“I find his choice of political party odd as this Labour administration is taking radical steps to tackle climate change, whilst the councillor has opposed the administration since the election. 

“Individuals that do not share the progressive and trade unionist values of the Labour Party are naturally more comfortable in opposition political parties.”