East Brighton councillor, Warren Morgan, has submitted a particularly robust and characteristically thoughtful response to my recent post about the state of Labour in Brighton and Hove. I had, perhaps unfairly, reflected on councillor Morgan’s earlier revelation that Labour is yet to select for all seats for May’s local elections as a sign of Labour’s decline in the City.
Warren has made some very sound points which deserves prominent coverage, and a serious response.
He says that it is “a hell of a leap to suggest Labour is ‘in decline’ because it hasn’t quite selected candidates for two ultra-safe Tory wards three months out from polling day… I don’t see any evidence that the Greens or the Tories have finalised their line-ups for May yet, indeed they may well change their candidates at the last minute as the Greens did in Preston Park in ’07.”
He continues: “I’ve no idea who the Greens or Lib Dems are putting up in East Brighton, and the Tories only selected for Queens Park a few weeks ago. Labour selected candidates well in advance compared to the previous two sets of local elections in wards where we are campaigning to win back seats lost last time.”
The point I was making in my earlier post was that the was a time when Labour would have had all it’s candidates in place many months before polling day, even in no hope seats. There was a time when hopefuls would seek to be selected in no hope seats in order to learn the ropes and hope to be seen to be an energetic and able candidate. And again, potential councillors learned the ropes, honed their debating skills and generally toughened up for several years before even being considered for the panel of candidates, let alone being selected to fight a winnable seat.
Now we have the situation where Labour struggles to find candidates, credible or otherwise, to stand in certain seats. To that extent, they are in decline.
Warren reflects on the state of the parties nationally: “Labour are 10% ahead of the Tories in the national polls, and have been winning council by-elections with 10 or 20% swings around the country.” Warren is right about that, but as he will know, Brighton bucks the national trend, at least in Brighton Pavilion. He disagrees, “Labour locally are better resourced, have a good set of candidates who represent the entire spectrum of the city and who are campaigning from opposition locally and nationally for the first time in decades. That puts us in a strong position.”
We have three factors that will mean that Labour will not bounce back in the same way as it may do elsewhere.
First, and most significantly, is the Caroline Effect. Labour shouted “wolf” too often last year, and many traditional Labour voters like me will vote for a Green candidate (in winnable seats) with much more confidence than before.
Second, and related to the first, is the anger that many Labour supporters continue to feel about Labour in government. Yes, many will be very, very angry about the Tory-led Coalition Government, and many will take advantage of the Green option in these locals.
And third, Labour has a real fight on with the Tories who, under Mary Mears leadership, will threaten Labour in its own heartlands, including Moulsecoomb and Bevendean, the two Portslade wards, and Hangleton and Knoll (although all of these currently have at least one Tory councillor).
Warren, unlike some of his less thoughtful Labour colleagues, recognises the strength of the Greens, and thinks that most voters don’t cast their votes in locals based on local issues: “No one suggests the Greens aren’t strong in many wards but their star is fading as Cameron’s cuts consolidate the Labour vote. The Tories seem hideously unpopular on the doorstep, and even their council tax stunts and incumbency (in the council & MPs offices) won’t help much in the face of a big national swing. Much as we all like to think that voters are immersed in the intricate nuances of local democracy, most cast their vote based on the national picture at the time.”
Warren’s analysis is credible, but one with which I disagree. The Tories under Mary Mears aren’t as hated as he suggests. The “council tax stunts” as he calls them, may not have the impact on the doorstep as the Tories might hope, but it has galvanised Tory activists, especially the Estate Agent classes in Goldsmid, not to mention Momma Grizzly.
Warren’s personal strengths as a councillor and campaigner, for which I have great respect, means he sees Labour in the rest of the City as if it reflected East Brighton. I am sorry to say, and I mean this, it is not the case. If Labour had more Warren Morgan’s in it’s ranks it would be far better placed to challenge effectively in May. And because of this, I stand by my view that Labour’s decline will continue.
Filed under: Council Elections 2011, Politics | Tagged: Bevendean, Brighton, Caroline Effect, Caroline Lucas, David Cameron, East Brighton, Goldsmid, Hangleton, Hove, Knoll, Mary Mears, Momma Grizzly, Moulsecoomb, Pavilion, Portslade, Preston Park, Queens Park, Rachael Bates, Warren Morgan | 12 Comments »