Planes, Trains and Automobiles (not forgetting the buses)

Planes, Trains and Automobiles was a 1987 film starring John Candy and Steve Martin. Twenty five years later we could be in for a remake set in Sussex called Trains, Buses and Automobiles. These are issues that could influence the 2015 general and local elections.

The Government has announced that rail fares are going up by more than the rate of inflation for the tenth year in a row. Why is Mike Weatherley not press releasing his support for his government? He knows that this is a source of increasing anger for commuters. Caroline Lucas was quick off the mark, along with one of the Green’s European Parliament candidates, Alex Phillips, leafleting at Brighton Station and appearing on the local news.

Public transport, and trains in particular, is the remit of Norman Baker, the Lib Dem/Conservative Coalition MP for Lewes. The good news for Stormin’ Norman is that rail fare increases will have little impact on his chances of re-election because he is already toast. We haven’t forgotten his written pledge to oppose increases in tuition fees, and then voted to support such increases. (Old joke: what is smaller than the Higgs Bossom god particle? A Lib Dem’s backbone).

Labour has done well on the buses, scoring a couple of direct hits on the Greens. That should serve them well in a couple of wards, although these wards are already Labour held or in the case of Rottingdean Coastal solid Tory. It is fortunate that come 2015 the octogenarian Brian Fitch will step up his campaigns to save the threatened numbers 5, 49, 27, 81, 26 and 50. What would help Labour is if the party at a national level came out with a bold policy saying that it will increase subsidies for local bus and train routes in order to get people out of their cars and onto public transport.

Automobiles, and in particular parking of such, will be an issue in the locals in 2015. Tories and Labour continue to make hay about the downturn in visitor numbers and blaming the increase in parking charges. I am not so sure if that is the whole picture. The Olympics, the ‘summer’ and the economic downturn are likely to have been more significant factors.

The People’s Mike hasn’t been completely quiet, writing to the City Council’s outgoing Chief Executive, John Barradell, urging greater provision for bikers. Is this a huge vote winner in Hove Park where Labour is campaigning energetically? I am told that Labour had an “amazing day in Hove Park. No exaggeration, we were really surprised how many Labour votes there were – and disaffected Tories”. Mike will certainly be relying on the Hell’s Angels Chapter of this parish for his re-election. He certainly can’t rely on the commuters.

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

What are you doing, Brighton? Since I last commented on the affairs of this fair city the wheels on the bus no longer seem to be going round and round, but seem to have fallen off.

In the space of 3 months the Dear Leader, Bill Randall, has been replaced by the Son of the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-Kitcat, or Jason as he prefers to be known. Well, that had been anticipated for many months, so no shock there. But from a tier of 5 senior officers (a chief executive and 4 Super Directors) three are moving on to pastures new.

In September chief executive, John Barradell, is moving to take up a similar position in the Corporation of the City of London, Charlie Stewart is to become the chief executive of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, and David Murray is heading off to, actually I have no idea where.  In the case of Biker Dave, it was a bit of a pantomime, a matter of “is he going? Yes he is. Oh no he isn’t, he’s going to become interim chief executive! Oh no he’s not! Oh yes he is!” etc.

In fact Finance Director, Catherine Vaughan, who has never before enjoyed such high prestige (by which I mean featuring in this esteemed blog), has been recommended to act up …. as interim chief executive. Catherine is highly respected, and is said to have a good working relationship with Jason Kitcat from his time as Finance Chief. They will need to work well together because the next year could be brutal as the Council has to make up the amount to be lost following Labour and the Conservatives acceptance of the government’s council tax freeze bribe, and further cuts to budgets. How they managed the budget process for 2012/13 was very impressive, and bodes well for Jason Kitcat’s leadership should he remain engaged and responds on a political level.

Back to wheels on the bus. The axing of the bus routes, and the confusion over bus tenders, hasn’t looked good for the Greens. A u-turn in the last couple of days, when a wedge of cash was found down the back of the sofa, has saved the services. Is this yet another great result for the fearless campaign to save the number …? What number is it this week, councillor Fitch

Labour has run a successful campaign to save the bus routes. And credit hear should go to councillor Gill Mitchell and the party dynamo, Caroline Penn, who always seems to be snapping at the heals of the Greens and Tories, taking well aimed bites along the way.
Labour seems to be in good spirits following its restructuring, and once again full of fight.

The Enigmatic Flo has lamented my absence in recent months, asking why I was not giving credit where credit is due. She has chastised me saying it is about time I said something nice about Labour. Yes, the Labour Party in Brighton and Hove seems to be in much better shape, taking the Greens on in a concerted fight back. Target seats have been identified, with Hollingdean and Stanmer being high on their hit list.

Being the political establishment is never easy, and the Greens have taken a knocking in recent months. Labour made a mistake some years back when they had highly competent people at the helm of the City Council, but they lost the political argument. Something similar is happening with the Greens. The bus fiasco hasn’t helped.

The Tories are not benefiting much from the Green’s ill-ease. Apart from Bulldog Bobby from Westbourne, my identical twin brother, Graham Cox, they are lacking punch. The Bulldog appears to be doing all the running, and my prediction is that it will be Bobby who leads the Tories into the 2015 local elections.

But neither Labour or the Conservatives should be complacent over the difficulties being experienced by the Greens. All administrations have difficulties, but there are some good political tacticians within the Green ranks. As long as the Green Group doesn’t assume it is the Green Party locally to the exclusion of others (as the Labour Group did in Brighton from which it is only just recovering) the Greens will remain a political force locally. After all, the Greens have a trump card, and one that infuriates Labour activists. Remaining the outstanding politician in the City, head and shoulders above the rest, is Caroline Lucas.

State of the City – Labour

Good and bad things come in threes, so they say. Before my summer sojourn, there was a report entitled ‘State of the City’ prepared by the City Council, loaded with facts and figures. It is well worth a read. Then there was a debate, ‘State of the City’, organised by the other BHCC, the Brighton and Hove Chamber of Commerce, with speakers including Bill Randall, Simon Fanshawe and Roger French.

And now I present the Brighton Politics ‘State of the City’ a review of the political fortunes.

Before I went away I rather tongue in cheek suggested that the top politicians in the City were John Barradell and the Fab Four Super Directors for surviving the change in administration. And still they remain in post and likely to remain so. Here is what I really think.

Starting today with Labour, I have been impressed, as always, with the leadership and determination displayed by the East End ‘Family’. Gill Mitchell has held the group together as they have morphed from being the Labour Group to becoming the Labour and Co-operative Group. Warren Morgan and Craig Turton continue with their best Mitchell Brothers impression, and I for one am determined not to get on the wrong side of them.

Some of the newly elected councillors, not least those in Hove, (Penny Gilbey and Anne Pissadirou), have shown early promise, Penny following in the footsteps of her father, the late George Humphrey, and Anne active in Wish Ward. (She will have to work consistently hard as Wish is now seen as a natural Green target in 2015). A Labour activist that continues to impress is Caroline Penn, on Twitter as @ThePennyDrops – worth following.

But what Labour needs to do locally (because Ed Milliband isn’t doing it for them nationally) is capture the imagination of the people of Brighton and Hove. Labour needs a ‘Big Idea’ that will be seen to be transformational for the City.

Before the local elections, Warren Morgan kept emphasising that Labour was gaining in wards across the City. They may have polled well overall, but they were still a million miles away from forming an administration. If their Big Idea is to wait for the Greens to screw up, they will remain out of power of another decade or more. The Tories are as likely to benefit from a loss of support for the Greens than Labour is.

But the problem for Labour is that it has, since the time of Kinnock, looked almost exclusively to its leader for salvation. But politics has moved on and the electorate are looking for something new, and it isn’t whether Ed or brother David is the one to lead Labour into the next election. Can Labour move beyond the internecine squabbles of recent years? I doubt it in the short term.

What can Labour do that will turn the party’s fortunes around? Perhaps it needs to build a mass base, at it had in the 1980’s before the Kinnockites took over the asylum. Slowly and surely, the life blood was drained from the party. The Party could do worse than engaging once again with those who brought it success, left and right alike – Joyce Edmond Smith, Richard Stanton, Steve Bassam, Gill Sweeting, Andy Winter, etc. Their campaigning ability, their ability to engage with the electorate, is what the Party needs right now.

But there remain elements within the Labour Party that sees activists as a threat. It is fine to have ‘dependable’ people turning out to deliver leaflets, help with telephone banks, and occasionally knock on doors. But they shouldn’t get above and beyond themselves, and certainly should never question the leadership, locally or nationally.

Perhaps I look back on days that cannot be relived and successes that cannot be repeated. This is where I will incurr the wrath of Morgan and Turton. The Greens are the ones with the campaigning ability, the ones who have captured the imagination, and who still enjoy the Big Mo – momentum.

Labour has to decide on its parliamentary candidates in the not too distant future, and which should be all-women shortlists. Conventional wisdom has it that boundary changes will see Labour’s chances erode further in Brighton Kemptown. Brighton Pavilion will be a two-way fight between the Greens and the Tories, leaving Hove as its best chance. The Party leadership looks after its own and has ensured that Hove does not have an all-women shortlist, opening the way for Simon Burgess to become the candidate.

And here again, Labour will get it wrong. As I have always said, Simon is a decent, hard-working type who is an asset to Labour, working in a support role. There are few better. But as a candidate, in what could be a three-way marginal between Mike Weatherley, a Green (particularly a dynamic woman candidate) and Labour, he would be destined to be an also ran.

Perhaps Labour locally will need a further drubbing at the polls before it moves on and finds candidates who can match the appeal of Caroline Lucas and whoever the Greens field in Hove. I have an insight who that might be, and Labour will have little chance of matching her appeal.

As Dawn becomes a traveller, Mary & Geoffrey kiss and make up, I’m off on my summer holidays

It’s been a great six months in Brighton politics with the local elections resulting in a seismic shift in the political landscape. The next couple of months is likely to be a quieter period as people go on their summer holidays and the business of the Council and of Parliament eases off.

I have realised I should have been an MP. I am so attracted to the length of the summer recess. In order to experience part of the life of an MP I have decided to go off on my travels for a couple of months. What will I find when I return?

Will Dawn Barnett have resigned her seat and gone off with a convoy of Travellers? Will there be cannabis cafes on every street corner in Brighton Pavilion? Will Labour activists have learned to love Caroline Lucas? Will Momma Grizzly have discovered she is in the wrong party and have joined the SWP? Will Mary and Geoffrey have kissed and made up? Will Meat-free Monday have given way to Sizziling Steak Saturday? And most importantly, will John Barradell’s Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse get in touch with their feminine sides?

Enjoy your summer and see you in September.

Who are the best politicians in Brighton and Hove?

At present, given their electoral success, the Greens could claim to be the best politicians in Brighton and Hove. Individual Greens could be seen as having achieving remarkable things. Caroline Lucas continues to be the dominant individual, but a success for the party is the emergence of other Greens. Bill Randall has made a solid start as the Greens’ first ever leader of a local authority, and is impressing all who deal with him. In the elections themselves, Christopher Hawtree stunned all with his victory in Central Hove.

Amongst the Tories, rumour has it that Mike Weatherley is looking for a junior position in the Home Office. He has focussed much of his efforts in recent weeks on home affairs issues – Travellers, squatters, anti-social behaviour, drugs, etc. With the support and influence of Mamma Grizzly, can we expect to see armed police as a norm, even the return of capital punishment? (I have no reason to believe the Grizzly One advocates either, but I know she will always respond to any provocation!)

Labour, as the minority party in Brighton and Hove, with no MPs and few councillors, is finding it hard to be noticed. I retain some admiration for Warren Morgan and his fighting spirit. (Warren was recently photographed with sheep in Sheepcote Valley http://fb.me/BShMUeAA – Warren is the one wearing sunglasses).

Amongst the fringe activists, one has to mention My Pal Paul Perrin of UKIP. He never misses a chance to make anti-European comments, or to attack the political establishment. His latest target is payments to or expenses claimed by politicians. Perhaps he should be known as PayPal Perrin or perhaps No PayPal Paul.

But none of the above rank as the best politician. The are some individuals in the business community, Roger French from Brighton and Hove Buses, Sue Addis from Donatellos, and Mike Holland from Fingers in Many Pies, who have worked politicians of many shades to achieve their own ends. So too in the community and voluntary sector, there are several more than able politicians, who are able to bend with the prevailing wind. I think of Ian Chisnall from a church group, David Standing of Hove YMCA, Andy Winter of the Brighton Housing Trust, and Emma Daniel of the Community and Voluntary Sector Forum.

The best politicians in town, however, the five most accomplished by far, are John Barradell, the Chief Executive, and his Strategic Directors in the City Council (David Murray, Charlie Stewart, Geoff Raw and Terry Parkin). The Greens were committed to abolishing the Fab Four, but it looks as though they will survive and are going about their daily business showing not an iota of care. Such is their combined political nouce, they have made the transition from a Conservative to a Green regime as easy as moving from a starter of blue cheese and biscuits to a serving of steak, egg and chips (except, of course, on meat-free Mondays).

Are headlines about the Old Steine protest camp what the Greens need right now?

An unholy row is brewing in Brighton regarding protests in the City. Green councillor Ben Duncan, Cabinet Member for Commnities, has said that peaceful protests are welcome in the Ity. Of the Spanish protest camp that has been set up in the Old Steine, he has described it as “the model of the kind of engaged peaceful protest the Council and the Police are committed to facilitating.” Former council leader Mary Mears has said that she is ”astonished” by the statement and that she fears that Ben Duncan’s comments would encourage more protesters.

Now Simon Kirby, the Conservative member of paliament for Brighton Kemptown has said that the Green administration should not to use the city as a “laboratory for Green experiments.”

Mr Kirby has written a letter to Brighton and Hove City Council chief executive John Barradell in which he has said: “Whilst it is right that local authorities undertake their duties so that they comply with the law, I am very concerned at the impression being given to residents and visitors alike. I believe that business confidence will be eroded, in my opinion the rule of law is being challenged and unnecessary tensions are being created in the city. The Green Administration rests on minority support. It should recognise that. I am very concerned at the turn of events in the last few weeks and there needs to be a rapid change of direction. Brighton is a city where people want to go about their business in peace, not be part of a laboratory for Green experiments.”

My views are as follows:

Protests are part of our political life. The police have been unnecessarily heavy handed in dealing with, for example, the recent anti-EDL protests. By their tactics a generation of activists are being politicised (which is a good thng) but will have developed an anti-police attitude (which is a shame).

The statement by Ben Duncan was ill-judged. So early into the life of the new administration, the Green Admnistration has attracted unwelcome headlines. Being in opposition and being a campaigner is one thing, being a Cabinet member another. I am not suggesting that Ben compromises his views and policies, but having gained elected office, use your new position to influence, persuade and enforce your policies. Start by talking to the police about their tactics on demonstrations, agree a code of acceptable behaviour in the policing of demonstrations, insist that kettling plays no part in police tactics. You are the local government. Use the priviledged position you are in.

Finally, careful what you wish for. The camp in the Old Steine should have been given to remain for a nit or two. Now the Council will find it difficult to move. And what if similar camps begin appearing throughout the summer in the squares and parks throughout Brighton and Hove. I believe in protests and extra-parliamentary action, but there is a danger that such camps might proliferate masquerading as ‘protest camps’.

The Green Council has my blessing (I sound like Bishop Brian) but it needs some discipline within it’s ranks before something more significant causes the Group to implode.

How Baron Pepperpot has fallen out of love with Labour, and now Valerie has fallen out of love with Donny Osmond

Baron Pepperpot’s hopes for a Labour wipeout in Hollingdean and Stanmer has attracted some response, forcing the Baron to explain himself: “I wouldn’t say there are divisions within Labour, but the party needs renewal if it is to survive locally-lest the Greens wipe it off the map. There you go, honesty about a real threat. The old order must go. Now to curtail speculation, I am not a sitting councillor or a candidate. Just a Labour member.”

Later he came back to say: “I must add that i have nothing against the sitting H&S councillors, I just feel that a heavy defeat in this ward would be a catalyst for change that Labour needs locally.”

The Ghost of Nobby Clarke takes up the story: “The Barons comments are interesting and I think his wish might just come true with 2 of the candidates being ousted, I also agree Labour is looking at national trends a little too much and not allowing for the Brighton Left Wing Trendy voters who like opting for supposed cuddly Greens (wolves and sheep’s clothing spring to mind), they’re also putting a tad too much effort in Queens Park where they will come unstuck once again, no mention of the collapse of the Green vote in the general election in Kemptown yet from Mr Morgan as another pointer to taking QP.”

As for predictions, Sugar Puff Eater, Warren Morgan, writes: “Well, 12 days to go and we will see who is right in Hollingdean & Stanmer, Regency, QP, Hanover & EG, PP, Brunswick and Goldsmid. Those wards will determine how many seats the Greens hold against the Labour challenge and win from the Lib Dems or Labour. I think at best they will have a net loss or gain of one.” A brave prediction, Warren, but one with red-tinted specs. I think it will be a net gain of eight. This is the core of the Green offensive and where most resources are being targeted.

Warren goes on: “Labour will certainly gains seats from the Tories in some or all the following wards: Hangleton, Wish, M&B, North Portslade and South Portslade.”

I have this picture – each morning Warren lines up his Sugar Puffs, grouping them into wards, candidates and likely victors, before gobbling them all up. How he loves his Sugar Puffs!

Marina72 helpfully provides an insight into Labour and the campaign in St Peters and North Laine: “I got a PDF of the Labour poster via email. Not quite the same, but nonetheless I’ve seen several in windows around 7 Dials/Prestonville (more than Greens, to my surprise.)”

And Momma Grizzly is annoyed with me for suggesting narrow campaign in Hollingdean and Stanmer: “The Conservative campaign in H&S is certainly not just focused on Coldean. We’re campaigning hard all over the ward, Baps! Tsk tsk.”. I apologise, Grizzly One, I know you’ve been to the Bates Estate (did you see me wave?) but I don’t think that Belushi’s Below is in the ward!

But on this slow day for electioneering, I bring you some news from two of our esteemed Returning Officers. Brighton and Hove City Council Chief Executive, John Barradell, has been identified as the 17th most influential person in local government. The citation reads: “John Barradell is one of a growing band of chiefs who are using technology to drive the redesign of services. For example, he held a ‘city camp’ at which citizens could design smartphone applications to measure local congestion or air quality, or show how to access services.”

John, however, is 941st most influential Tweeter in Brighton and Hove, according to updood.com’s 1,000 top twitter users in Brighton and Hove. He is just one place above Eternal Tattoo, but well ahead of Tom French who is at 964. Sadly this Blogger fails to make the top 1,000, leaving him …. or her …. feeling neglected and unloved.

And on the subject of love …. Valerie Pearce at Brighton and Hove City Council says she is not in love with Donny Osmond …. “any more”. When did this end, and does Donny know? Clearly upset, all Valerie is eating is comfort food: chocolate and sausages. Updates on this developing situation as we receive it!

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