Vote for the independent Ian Chisnall in Thursday’s Police and Crime Commissioner election

It is never right not to vote. The vote has been hard fought for and should be respected.

On Thursday we are being invited to vote in the ridiculous Police and Crime Commissioner elections in Sussex. Many people have said that they are not going to vote. I would urge everybody to cast a ballot. You may not like these elections and the party you support might not be fielding a candidate. Nevertheless, you have a democratic duty to vote.

At worst, spoil your ballot. Write a message of protest. Better still, write the name of someone not standing at the bottom of the ballot paper. If you are sad and really desperate, vote for the Brighton Politics Blogger!

Alternatively, and this is what I shall be doing, is to vote for the independent candidate, Ian Chisnall. Ian is standing on a platform that includes opposing the party political nature of these elections. I think he is absolutely right.

Everyone has assumed that Katy Bourne, the Conservative Party candidate, will comfortably win this election. I think that is a correct assumption and, given that there will be a PCC, she will make a perfectly competent Commissioner. I’m pleased that it is likely to be the only woman on the ballot paper who will be elected.

But as Alan Clark used to say, ACHAB (“anything can happen at backgammon”. I don’t understand why he said it, it just makes me sound well read!). But I think that there is a very slim chance, very slim indeed, that people around the country might vote in sufficient numbers for independent candidates in these elections.

Therefore, if you don’t like the whole idea of these Commissioners, or if you don’t want to cast a vote for a party political candidate for such a position, or if you are just mischievous, please vote for Ian Chisnall.

Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner – the protest vote should go to the Independent candidate, Ian Chisnall

With the Procession to Victory, also known as the East Brighton By-Election, fresh in our minds, we turn to the next Procession to Victory, the election to become Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner.

There are five candidates in this election:
• Tony Armstrong (UKIP)
• Katy Bourne (Conservative)
• Ian Chisnall (Independent)
• Godfrey Daniel (Labour)
• David Rogers (Liberal Democrat)

Katy Bourne (aka The Winner) has two advantages in this election: she is the only woman in the field of five and she is a Conservative. I’m not saying that the overwhelming popularity of the Conservatives at this time will be a particular advantage, but the Sussex-wide constituency should guarantee a Conservative victory.

In any election Katy would be a formidable candidate, cut as she is from the same blue cloth as my own personal favourite Conservative, Chuck Vere. But it is a shame that this election offers so little by way of a true contest.

I have previously posted my view that this election should not be contested on a party political basis. I am pleased that the Greens have decided not to field a candidate (although I imagine that that is due to pure pragmatic reasons such as the cost of running such a campaign).

I think that the only way that a Conservative candidate could have been properly challenged would have been if the other major party, Labour, and the two obscure fringe parties, the Lib Dems and UKIP, had not stood and put their support behind an independent candidate.

I am very pleased that Ian Chisnall has put himself forward as an Independent. I hope that people will vote for him if for no other reason than to make a statement that this role should not be a party political one.

So good luck to Ian Chisnall in this election and best wishes to Katy Bourne who will be elected on November 15 to represent the 1.6 million population of Sussex as the Police and Crime Commissioner. I am sure she will do a fine job.

Are the political classes in Brighton mature enough to cope with Caroline Lucas disagreeing with the Green Group?

A sign of a mature democracy is how it deals with dissent. It should be able to cope with it without clamping down on freedoms or maligning the dissenter. Similarly, a mature political party should not only accommodate dissent, it should positively welcome it.

Political parties should not try to resemble religious sects, demanding total and uncritical allegiance regardless of the merits of an argument. It is funny that the Blairites in New Labour demanded the same unthinking loyalty as Militant Tendency required of its acolytes.

I have always felt that the Green Party has shown more maturity than some other parties, particularly Labour in Brighton and Hove, when handling dissent. When Cllr Alex Phillips was the lone vote against the Labour/Conservative budget, most members of the Green Group respected the stance she had taken. Her dissent was widely welcomed within the Green Party.

I know plenty of Green Party members who remain supportive of the Green Council in spite of disagreements over particular policies and actions. To suggest, as Labour is doing, that the cuts being forced on the City Council are either “Green cuts” or that Caroline Lucas is somehow responsible for them, is childish politics.

I would imagine, and sources within the Green Party have suggested to me, that Caroline Lucas herself is not comfortable with some of the actions of Green members on the City Council. I believe that she disagreed with the expulsion of Christina Summers even though Ms Lucas’ record on gay marriage is without doubt.

The problem for Caroline Lucas is the immaturity of the political process where activists in parties opposed to the Greens might seize upon any admission of disagreement as a split within the Green Party. It is not a split, it is a disagreement and should any of my occasional readers try to make political capital out of this, they will merely be proving my point about political immaturity.

The Boundary Commission, Brighton Pavilion and Caroline Lucas

Earlier this week the Boundary Commission announced new proposals for the redrawing of Parliamentary constituencies. It has been suggested in the Argus that Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas would have been defeated had the last election been fought on these proposed boundaries.

I find the latest proposals without logic, with Regency ward being moved into the neighbouring Hove constituency and Moulsecoomb and Bevendean wards becoming part of Brighton Pavilion.

Should Labour or Conservative activists be taking heart from this latest set of proposals, they should think again. It will take more than gerrymandering to remove Caroline Lucas. Since the 2010 general election, Ms Lucas has increased her personal support, notwithstanding the current difficulties of the Green administration on Brighton and Hove City Council.

The last general election was a very tight affair with three exceptional women candidates, Nancy Platts for Labour, Charlotte Vere for the Conservatives and Caroline Lucas for the Greens. I got to know all three during the election campaign and came to like and admire them all. Any one of them would have made a first-rate constituency MP. As it was, it was Caroline Lucas who came out triumphant, and as the sitting MP she now has a significant advantage going into 2015.

One of Labour’s main strategies in 2010 was to repeat its claim that Caroline Lucas could not win the seat and that the only way to beat the Conservatives was to vote Labour. A large number of people accepted this line yet Caroline Lucas went on to win the seat. Next time, this false tactical vote argument will not work for Labour and those people who felt cheated by having voted Labour when they may well have voted Green, will vote for the sitting Member of Parliament who has done nothing but strengthened her personal reputation and following.

It would take an excessively unpleasant campaign by Labour or the Conservatives to unseat Caroline Lucas. Should they try such an approach they will lose further support since politicians who behave in such a manner are increasingly rejected by the electorate, particularly against a candidate with such obvious integrity.

Having met Caroline Lucas on a few occasions (I don’t get out much) I have been very impressed by her modesty, diligence and ability. She won’t take anything for granted, which is wise, but should this week’s headlines get her down, she should take heart from assurances of the very widespread and growing support for her.

Chaun Wilson wins the East Brighton by-election for Labour

Congratulations to Chaun Wilson on her victory in today’s East Brighton by-election. Several weeks ago, on 21st September, I described Chaun simply as ‘The Winner’. I wrote: “East Brighton is Labour’s strongest stronghold, thanks to the work of sitting councillors Gill Mitchell and Warren Morgan, and that of the recently resigned Craig Turton. The chances of Labour losing this seat is about as great as someone finding Nick Clegg’s backbone.”

I was wrong. She didn’t just win. It was a landslide:

Carlie Goldsmith (Green Party) 456
Joe Miller (Conservative) 531
Chaun Wilson (Labour) 1,596

Turnout was 26%.

The result will be more than pleasing for Labour as it rebuilds towards 2015. A defeat would have been a disaster. The challenge for Labour is to seek to regain some of the ground lost in 2011 to the Greens and, as important, to make inroads in Tory seats, particularly areas like Hangleton and Knoll. The size of their landslide will give them heart and is a sign that Labour is returning to its former strength in Brighton.

The Greens had hoped for a second place finish so the result will have been disappointing but not particularly relevant as East Brighton does not feature large in their plans. Not much should be read into the Greens third place. Had it been a by-election in a seat in Brighton Pavilion it would have been more worrying, a set back for their hopes of strengthening their position on the Council in 2015. (I will be writing more soon about the prospects for Caroline Lucas in 2015 – my belief that her prospects for re-election will not be dependant on the success or otherwise of the Green Council. Even with the boundary changes, Ms Lucas will win).

The Conservatives put up a brave fight in spite of the hopelessness of their cause in East Brighton. Joe Miller was an ‘interesting’ choice but not one that was likely to cause an upset. He is a nice enough young man but it takes an extraordinary young person to be elected. And Joe Miller is no Alex Phillips.

So in East Brighton, normal service is resumed. Welcome to councillor Chaun Wilson, and I look forward to seeing her in action in the Council Chamber.

‘Summersgate’ is simply poor politics

I think I have upset some of my Green friends over ‘Summersgate’. Last night I was challenged by Rob Jarrett to say what my views are on equal marriage. I responded to @RobHove as follows: “100% in favour of equal marriage, 100% disagree with Christina Summers, 100% think Greens have made massive error expelling her”.

Equal marriage isn’t the issue here. In fact it is not something that the Council has any power over. The issue is making an issue of an issue vaguely related to that issue, if you follow me. No? I’ve commented on the politics, not the equal marriage issue. The fact that we are still discussing the expulsion of Christina Summers from the Green Group is an indication, not of a very wide consensus in favour of equal marriage, but of poor politics.

Politicians must be on their guard to avoid simple traps that can destroy reputations, personally or for the party as a whole. Often it is down to arrogance or immaturity, and often a fatal combination of both. Look at the Conservatives. They are falling over backward to assert their support for the police following Andrew Mitchell and ‘Gategate’. It detracts from their message and has become something far more damaging than the incident itself warranted.

The Lib Dems, bless, carry many burdens: Nick Clegg, Tuition Fees, being Lib Dems. How impressed we all were with ‘I’m Sorry’, now gone viral on YouTube. ‘Sorrygate‘ has had more than a million hits in just four days. I prefer the ‘gate’ associated with the Lib Dems to be known simply as ‘lackinganymoralfibregate’ but then I am just plain mean.

Labour is burdened, and will be for a generation, with something far more serious, Iraq. No matter how reformed they become, even if Ed Miliband was to do his own version of ‘I’m Sorry’ it is still going to take a lot more before Labour will be trusted again on foreign policy. Coming into Government, Labour’s ethical foreign policy promised so much …..!

But back to the Greens on the City Council. Overall I think they are doing well but losing the PR war quite badly. They are not unique. All incoming administrations struggle after their initial honeymoon. How the Greens respond over the next 12 to 18 months will be critical. They need to focus on what they were elected to do. Local councillors, when all is said and done, are elected to ensure they deliver good local services. Are bins being emptied and the streets cleaned? Can their children get into the school of their choice? What do people think of library services? Where will their children and grandchildren live? Is there visible homelessness on the streets? How good is the bus service? Is there traffic congestion? What is the economic outlook for the area? And so on.

Of course much is beyond the control of local government with spending constraints being imposed on an unparalleled level, the banks refusing mortgages, the overall economy.

So, how do I think the Green Administration is doing. Overall, very well. There is a good feeling around Brighton. The streets are clean, the bins are emptied, sensible decisions have been made about safeguarding services to the most vulnerable. The attacks of Labour and Tory activists are predictable, and are not any more representative of the views of the general public than, say, the views of this humble blogger.

The Greens have won praise and respect for their approach to budget setting which is more open than anything that has gone before. Jason Kitcat and, before him, Bill Randall, are both well respected, as are many leading members of the administration. They haven’t been assisted by the turmoil, not of their making, within the officer class at the Council.

My advice to the Greens is to carry on as you have begun, engage more with people outside the Council (council officers are not your electorate), and please avoid any future silly own goals such as Summersgate.

I am sure that there are other issues that are bubbling away in the background. I am advised that a few Green councillors are exercised about prayers at council meetings. Nobody cares about prayers before meetings other than a few councillors. It doesn’t impact on the lives of ordinary people. If you are tempted to try to do something about them you will become a laughing stock rather than the serious political force that you have become through many years of diligent building and for which you have my respect.

The division within the Greens over Christina Summers’ expulsion

The Argus’s Tim Ridgway is fast establishing himself as an outstanding local government correspondent, and the Argus is the better paper for his reporting.

Not that the Greens will be thinking so this morning as Tim reveals the list of those Green councillors who signed the letter resulting in Christina Summers being expelled from the Green Group on Brighton and Hove City Council.

According to Tim, those who signed the letter were: Liz Wakefield, Rob Jarrett, Leo Littman, Phelim MacCafferty, Lizzie Deane, Sue Shanks, Christopher Hawtree, Ben Duncan, Sven Rufus, Mike Jones, Stephanie Powell, Amy Kennedy, and Ruth Buckley.

Those who did not sign were: Matt Follett, Bill Randall, Geoffrey Bowden, Ian Davey, Ollie Sykes, Alex Phillips, Pete West, Jason Kitcat, and Ania Kitcat.

I am personally disappointed with some who signed and pleasantly surprised by one or two who did not.

When histories are written of political administrations, the moment that an under-fire group turns on its own members is the moment that defeat becomes likely. The Greens still have time to reflect on what got them elected in 2011 and return to the campaigning political operation that so inspired many voters.

(Note: the original posting had Tim Ridgway as a “loyal government correspondent” now corrected to “local government correspondent” and the names of Geoffrey Bowden and Bill Randall had become fused as Geoffrey Randall. What a thought!)

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