Greens must make the most of their backbenchers

Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. But can this be said to apply to the Greens who now control Brighton and Hove City Council? 150 days or so since getting the keys to the Town Hall, the Greens have been accused of selling out.

It is rumoured that a Green councillor has asked that the use “sustainable” be used rather than the word “green” in Council reports and publications because the word “green” is too political.

I don’t know if that is true, but the Greens are now entering the most challenging period of the administration – their first budget.

Tory leader Geoffrey Theobald sent me a statement in which he said the new administration was being “green” as in being “inexperienced … in their approach to running the council so far”. He wrote: “u-turns on issues such as the work programme contract, building on Toad’s Hole Valley and the ‘meat-free Monday’s initiatives show that they have got a long way to go, however they chose to label it.”

The reality, though, is that the ups and downs of the new administration is not much different from the first 5 months of any new administration. There have been no u-turns on any matter of substance. And neither the Tories or Labour have managed to lay a decent glove on the Greens. None of this is a surprise. Where the real battle will commence is the budget.

Most Green Cabinet members have been impressive in getting out and about and engaging with the business, third sector and community groups. Green leader, Bill Randall, in particular, has impressed the business community, and the feedback from the voluntary and community sectors has been very positive.

But for the Greens to continue to thrive they need to think about the role of backbenchers. Cabinet members and a single MP cannot, alone, carry the party and help maintain the Big M, momentum. They are likely to be the ones who will drawn negative coverage when the cuts are announced and implemented. Unlike other parties, the Greens are more likely to tolerate dissent in their ranks. Backbenchers can have a constructive role in presenting the Greens as a party of hope and aspiration while the Cabinet members take the flack for the inevitable compromises that they will have to take.

The names of a couple of Cabinet members have been suggested to me as possible candidates to take on Mike Weatherley. If the election was this week I would think that they would not be unreasonable choices. But after the budget the responsibility for being candidate must pass to a backbencher.

But part of the problem for the Greens, with one or two exceptions, their backbenchers (particularly newly elected ones) are largely invisible. To effectively challenge Weatherley in Hove, and more so in North Brighton and Hove, a lot more is needed from backbenchers who are needed as the eyes and ears of the Party.

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7 Responses

  1. It is only natural that the Green administration will make mistakes through inexperience. It all has to start somewhere.

    I like the community activism that underpins the party. Also they are keen to use much consultation when establishing policy. The membership is keenly involved.

    I know that Labour are soul searching, and good for them. The party had been in power for a long time, and then opposition, yet within the party locally there seemed to be a lack of fresh direction. Sadly a few good candidates missed out at the election too. A major overhaul, at least in image, is expected here.

    As for the Conservatives, there is talk of the new generation, the social-liberals, yet with Thatcherite theming. I find all that a bit scary, perhaps my fears are unrealistic-time will tell.

    However, I think local politics is in for an interesting few years, with younger, fresher and zealous talent on all sides. That must be a good thing.

  2. Dear Brighton Blogger,

    I acknowledge your comments and sometimes constructive criticism is welcome but you must give the Green administration ‘time’ to adjust, adapt and gain that experience. Yes, ultimately there are times when you have to reevaluate and make changes. No one is infallible. It is hard enough to appease, please and pacify everyone, but the fact of the matter is the Greens have also made some really positive and rational proposals e.g. 3.5% council tax for the next 3 years in order to protect essential services e.g. Children and Adults Services, frontline staff, in house care (84% has been outsourced in England) and a commitment to safeguard the vulnerable and needy in our City. They also implemented a ‘living wage’ for Council staff on the lowest grade to bring them up to a decent wage. As for the word ‘sustainable’ then this should be part of all our vocabularies? I am troubled by the under-use of the word and the overuse of ‘economic sustainability’. What is ‘economic sustainability’? Shouldn’t it be ‘environmental sustainability’ at the top of the agenda as a means of saving us from overconsumption and the destruction of our planet. The councillors and members of B&H Green Party are working tirelessly and continuously coming up with bright and imaginative ideas. Running a city the size of Brighton and Hove is no easy thing and with many young and inexperienced councilors please don’t be drawn into the usual mainstream rhetoric of expecting miracles overnight. Positive changes only come on a gradualist basis. I’d much rather be supporting an administration that is honest, open, transparent and is democratically accountable and is willing to try things like ‘meat-free Mondays’. If people are going to judge the Green administration, then do it after 4 years and then see what difference they have made and what they have achieved. I have every trust, faith and confidence in them that they will deliver as well as reevaluate their position from time to time which is healthy and encouraging for us all.

  3. The Green Party face a number of difficulties in implementing their platform, but the fact that so many policies cannot be delivered in the present financial position is resulting in them appearing almost sensible at times. Having won an election they tried to come second in, they have had to adjust rapidly to the unexpected power. Some things have been positive, e.g. living wage, and some things have been embarrassing, e.g. the climbdown on Meat-free Mondays (from the party that is going to take on the might of vested international interests).

    What is absolutely clear is that the Green Party do nothing that does not have Caroline’s seal of approval, and this is judged simply against the likely effect on her chances of re-election. She is, in reality, the Leader of the Council.

    It may be that the boundary changes may allow her to loosen the grip, as her own position would appear pretty secure – unless she does the slightly braver thing of standing in Brighton North.

    A more relaxed approach would allow the present Council to do as much as could be reasonably expected in the circumstances with a reasonable degree of competence. There will be nothing radical, the Condem cuts can be blamed for that, whilst still claiming to want to go much further.

    Someone else will have to emerge from the ranks of the Councillors. Alex Philips is the most likely, and free of much responsibility at the moment – although her recent appearence at the Labour Party fringe meeting hardly covered her in glory. Labour will also be clearly the second placed party in Brighton N. and Hove.

    The East Brighton/Lewes seat will be third choice for them in 2015, so will probably be a proving ground for an aspirant. It will be difficult, because simply winning one seat again will not be acceptable, and even winning a second in Brighton/Hove will hardly set the political world on fire. The Green Party must win outside of B+H in 2015 if they are to be taken at all seriously.

    In terms of activity by backbenchers – I can confirm that, here in Preston Park, I have only seen one of our councillors at a local event since the election, and even then he disappeared quickly at the end before you could ask a quick question. The others must be doing something -of course the beloved Amy is very busy – but there is no real public profile raising going on.

  4. Is the sustainable issue really such a big deal? The last administration changed the name of the Local Labour Scheme to Local Employment Scheme. The Greens seem like a breath of fresh air, doing things differently that the old dinosaur parties can’t deal with. Although I have immense respect for Gill Mitchell and Geoffrey Theobald their double act , seemingly based on the Old Gits from Harry Enfield is not going to win many votes I would have thought.

  5. The BPB is, perhaps naturally, missing the beat. That is, the interesting phenomenon that the pub and the kitchen provide for much useful talk which traverses the Cabinet and others. And on the hoof, in various quarters, I sense distinct public recognition that there is momentum, that everything cannot be addressed in an instant. There is nothing much positive coming from the other parties, only sniping. Indeed, the Tories’ oafish derision of me has made me have as little to do with them as possible. There is so much else to be doing.

  6. What is a backbencher for in a cabinet system? They can be an influence on policymakers if they have special expertise, eloquence, or have a strong positive profile with public opinion.

    Dawn Barnett and Brian Fitch(formerly)) spring to mind, as does the once Shoreham councillor and Northampton MP Maureen Colquhoun(never out of the Argus in her time).

    Few if any of the Green or even other current councillors seem to have taken on the populist scourge of bureaucracy/go-getter role.

    With her multiple degrees and film star looks I am surprised Dr.Ania Kitcat hasn’t emerged as a rising star rather than a question mark.Could it be that a number of Greens didn’t expect to get in and are therefore somehwat half-hearted?

  7. Roll on the by elections. Labour local are changing and we will be revitalised.

    I helped canvas in the Adur Council by election last week and Labour lost by six votes to the Tories, so close.

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