Green turns blue in surprise defection

Philip Hardy Image copyright bbc
Image caption Philip Hardy has switched allegiances and made an ideological leap to join the Conservatives

Defections are always guaranteed to raise an eyebrow and make a few columns in the next day's newspaper - but Philip Hardy's may well be talked about for a little longer.

The leader of the Green Party on Norfolk County Council hasn't just switched allegiances - he's made an ideological leap.

Philip Hardy has joined the Conservatives.

"It's been a difficult decision," he tells us, "but I believe I can more effectively progress the green agenda by working with the government than working outside of it."

"Climate change won't wait for the Green Party to take control of Norwich City Council, Norfolk County Council or the country.

"I think I can make more of a difference working with the Conservatives."

Time to go

Mr Hardy, who is 37, and has been the Green's group leader for 18 months, says he has felt at odds with the party for some time.

He supported the Libya campaign when the Green Party was against it, and he finds he is in support of the government's plans for deficit reduction, although the Greens officially are not.

So he felt it was time to go: "The Greens are anti-capitalist, I believe the environmental ills of capitalism can be resolved within the capitalist system.

"Capitalism can be a self healing system."

Mr Hardy says he's happy joining a party which wants to build a waste incinerator in Kings Lynn, a ring road around Norwich and whose Chancellor recently declared that the demands of business and growth should not be held back by carbon reduction targets.

"I'm looking at the wider picture, I'm not a single issue councillor," he maintains.

Shocked and saddened

It's thought that Mr Hardy is the first Green politician to join the Conservatives.

The party claims that he was the 7th most senior Green in the country.

The Greens admit to being shocked and saddened by Mr Hardy's departure but they point out that they are still big players in Norfolk politics.

With six councillors they are still the third largest group on the County Council (ahead of Labour) and they are the main opposition on Norwich City Council.

"You must keep this in perspective," says Marcus Hemsley, the new group leader on the council who himself seems rather shocked at his sudden elevation.

"Eleven years ago there were no councillors in Norwich, we now have 22 (counting both city and county council).

"We've grown year on year and we've never lost a councillor at the ballot box.

"We'll keep on fighting and we'll keep on winning seats."

Blow to morale

Image copyright Other
Image caption The defection represents a blow to morale for the Green Party

The Conservative group in Norfolk now has a record 63 councillors - and Mr Hardy is the third defector to join this year (the other two came from the Liberal Democrats).

"One day in government is 10 times better than 1,000 days in opposition," says council leader Derrick Murphy.

So the Conservative party in Norfolk ends the year on a high.

For the Greens this is very embarrassing and a blow to party morale.

They'll need to make some more gains in the May local elections to prove to their critics that they are still a force to be reckoned with.

I'm now reliably informed that The Green Party was not actually against the Libya intervention. Apparently Caroline Lucas was against it at the time of the Parliamentary vote; the Party itself has no formal position on it. There is no party policy on the matter: members were free to express whatever view they wished on it.

I'm sure you are as glad as I am to set the record straight.