Reflections on that Frabrica Moment

I have not posted for a week, observing the debate on Caroline Lucas’s ‘Fabrica Moment’, what others have been posting, and conversations I have had with different people. I felt a need to reflect, to make sure that I have not been too hard on either Caroline Lucas or Nancy Platts.

And my conclusion? The concensus is that Lucas was mistaken to launch her campaign at Fabrica.  Fabrica itself has pleaded that it is not ‘elitist’. But Fabrica is not Hollingdean, Patcham or Hollingbury.  The Greens are still seen as too town centre-centric, and its activists largely attractive, bright young things, with honourable exceptions. There is interest and excitement about the Greens prospects in Brighton Pavilion, although there is swcepticism about the Greens in Brighton Kemptown.

Nancy Platts is well thought of, and some (myself included) find that her personal strengths are causing a dilemna that we thought would not be there.  The prospect of a Green MP is attractive, but Nancy is making it particularly difficult for traditional Labour supporters to make the switch.  There is recognition that Nancy is unlikely to win, but Caroline needs to do so much more if she is to do more than come second to the Tories.

Nancy is personable, is working hard, is well known, and is liked.  Caroline remains aloof, somewhat ‘superior’, and the Greens (other than Green Amy in that tabbard) lack humour. The Greens didn’t use its conference to give the Lucas campaign a significant ‘bump’. Can ‘that Platts woman’ escape the Labour conference village (where she can be very busy but irrelevant to the voters in Brighton Pavilion) and bring the Labour Party to life for her voters? On second thoughts, the Labour Party is Nancy’s biggest handicap.  Perhaps she should keep a low profile and wait for Brown et al to leave town!

Who on earth is advising Caroline Lucas?

Caroline Lucas formally launched her campaign at the Fabrica Gallery. I thought someone was winding me up when I heard this. The Greens couldn’t possibly be that inept. Lucas’s campaign would surely be launched on one of the estates.

And tonight I read in the Argus that her campaign was, indeed, launched at the Fabrica Gallery!

Caroline, whoever it was who suggested Fabrica, sack them. You have problems enough overcoming the appearance of a remote, academic outsider without adding ‘elitist’ to your handicaps.

Hardly a bounce from your conference, what with Sven’s ‘that Platts woman’ own goal and now this.

General elections are not the same as local elections where you will pick up protest votes against the government. Things like this matter, and you have got off to a bad start.

Vote tactically or prepare for the worst

The Taxpayers Alliance is advocating the end of universal Child Benefit amongst a list of money saving ideas.  According to one reporter on Radio 5 Live this morning, the Tories are hiding under their duvet covers, not wanting to be drawn on which cuts they will support.

What exactly do the Tories stand for?  David Cameron is trying to be all things to all people.  He won’t confirm that there will be public spending cuts after the elction, but says he is being ‘frank’ with the voters. How will he reduce public expenditure by £20 billion?  All he has done is to pledge to cut subsidised alcohol and food for MP’s and reduce ministerial salaries if the Tories win power at the next election – populist issues but as significant as spitting into a Force 10 gale at Cape Horn.

The best quote comes from Lib Dem Danny Alexander who said, “The Liberal Democrats have proposed not renewing Trident. David Cameron wants to increase the price of salads”.

At least Chancellor Alistair Darling is being more honest. He has said the government will have to “cut costs” and “shift resources to the front line” to deal with the recession’s effects. He said “hard choices” included looking at selling off “non-essential public sector assets” and shifting resources to “where they are needed most”. The devil will be in the detail.

Expect it to be bad if Labour get back in. Expect it to be a whole lot worse under the Tories. Our best hope is for a hung Parliament. That’s why the Tactical Voting Campaign is so important.

Defending the Greens Record of Campaigning

I have received a robust defence from Green Amy Kennedy of the Green Party’s record in campaigning against the closure of post offices. (see “Greens have been conspicuous by their absence in any campaign to save any single [Post Office)”. She writes:

“When the Brighton & Hove PO closures were announced in October 2007, Greens cllrs were appalled to find that no less than four of the six doomed B&H sub-POs were located in our wards (Trafalgar Street in St Peter’s & North Laine, Elm Grove in Hanover & Elm Grove, and Preston Circus and Preston Road in Preston Park).

“Subsequently, Brighton & Hove Greens were the only political party locally to call a public meeting to try and hold Post Office Ltd to account (http://www.carolinelucasmep.org.uk/2007/11/28/greens-fight-post-office-closures/), which was held on 6th December 2007 at the Friends Meeting House.

“The meeting was Chaired by Peter Crowhurst (North Laine Community Association), and the panel consisted of Caroline Lucas, Selma Montford MBE, David Bull (then Conservative PPC for Brighton Pavilion) Gary Herbert (Post Office Ltd), Malcolm Butler (Postwatch – consumer watchdog), and a CWU rep (sorry, name escapes me). Invitations were also issued to local Labour MPs, but in the event this offer was not taken up.

“Green councillors also organised petitions in all the condemned B&H POs (including the two in Hove), amassing several thousand signatures, in addition to supplying free template letters for customers to send to Post Office Ltd, Postwatch, and their respective MPs. We sent the original petitions to Hazel Blears MP (then CLG minister), and forwarded copies to PO Ltd and Postwatch.

“Needless to say, the axe fell regardless, thanks to the Labour government’s relentless drive to introduce “efficiency” into public services, regardless of the (not necessarily intangible) cost to communities. I have to say it was pretty ironic watching Nancy Platts running around trying to “save the Post Offices” when (if I recall correctly) both David Lepper and Des Turner voted for the proposals to close the B&H sub-POs, and hundreds like them across the country.

“We are still working to try and progress an “Essex model” at local authority level, so watch this space. And we have and will continue to picket with the CWU. So it’s not fair really to suggest that Greens aren’t doing anything to protect post offices and public mail services”.

Thanks, Green Amy. I stand corrected regarding the campaigning of the Greens.

She is right about the role of the Labour government in driving through post office closures. It truly is the Labour version of the Poll Tax. And given reference to the Poll Tax, now that was a real campaign. Not only did we ultimately get the Poll Tax thrown out, we brought down Margaret Thatcher.

Notwithstanding the activities of the Greens, Nancy Platts and others, post offices closed, remain closed and is unlikely to be a massive part of the general election. The campaign has not been successful.

That Fabulous Platts Woman

I often feel guilty when blogging about Brighton Pavilion. I still sway towards the probability that Caroline Lucas is more likely to beat the Tories than a Labour candidate. I feel guilty, not because this blog may ‘call’ Brighton Pavilion for the Greens in the Tactical Voting Campaign, but because Nancy Platts is a decent, hard working, honourable candidate.  Her misfortune is to be a Labour candidate in the 2010 General Election.

But what is so refreshing about Nancy is the obvious enjoyment she has in campaigning for election. She takes issues seriously and works hard, but does not take herself too seriously, or at least she is willing to poke fun at herself.

Last night I received a message from her in which she makes reference to the debate on this blog about campaigning on the estates. The question has been asked (not by Nancy – she does not comment on her opponents weaknesses) whether Caroline Lucas knows where Crabtree Avenue is, or whether she has ever caught the number 50 omnibus to The Dip in Hollingdean.

What Nancy has done is to post prictures of herself out and about in Brighton Pavilion. These pictures were taken in, err, oh yes, Crabtree Avenue and visiting the post office in The Dip. She signed the message to me “That Platts Woman”, a self-effacing reference to the own goal by Green Councillor, Sven Rufus (see http://wp.me/pxVNs-4b).

As always, Nancy, the more people see of you, the more people like what they see. Your intervention is much appreciate.

Nominate your community campaigner

I recently blogged about the lack of any meaningful campaign against the closure of post offices. From the responses received, comments made to me, and my own observations, we seem to have a generation of politicians who lack an understanding of what campaigning is.

Dan Wilson, in support of Nancy Platts, said: “There has been activity in Brighton: Nancy Platts has been supporting the CWU campaign against Royal Mail privatisation and post office closures” and provides a link to Nancy’s website

Nancy is quoted on her website as saying, “Recently, I was pleased to join colleagues from the CWU and support their campaign against the privatisation of Royal Mail. Unfortunatly, as you can see, the elements were against us. It’s such an important issue that we braved the rain nonetheless.  Post Offices and the Royal Mail are at the core of our communities and I oppose anything that weakens their important social role”.

The picture she has posted underlines the point I am making – a trade union banner on the seafront (in appalling weather). Being photographed on the seafront is not campaigning. It is a photo opportunity.  A campaign would have been gathering signatures outside a threatened post office for days, even weeks, galvanising local people (not party activists) to form a campaign group, and then allowing them to lead it, true community empowerment. Nothing short of this is tokenism.

Scott Redding talks up the Greens record on post office closure, that “not just in Brighton, but around the country, Greens have campaigned against post office closures. The first two pages of hits describe Green campaigns in Gloucestershire, Kent, Lancaster, Leamington, Leicester, London, St Ives, Stroud and Sutton”. Impressive, Scott, but not in Brighton. We have had so many post offices closed and the Greens have been conspicuous by their absence in any campaign to save any single one of them. I don’t expect Caroline Lucas to take the lead (I am often told by Green friends that she is fully occupied in Brussels and as Party Leader), but where have the local Green councillors been? Bill Randall understands activism, but do many of the other Greens?

I go to community meetings where both Green and Labour councillors display a stunning lack of awareness that scoring party political points off each other is one of the great killers of enthusiasm for the party political process.

What we need are exmples of true community activists who can pull together a good community campaign. Would anyone like to nominate a good example?

Post Office Closures

Having just spent the best part of half an hour queueing at my local post office (I know I got off lightly), my mind turned, as it does, to the general election.

In addition to Iraq, Afghanistan, the recession, etc., the closure of post offices will be a heavy weight around the necks of Labour candidates.

This is an issue the Greens should clean up on, but tthe Party’s lack of campaigning instinct has let them down to date. A million signature petition would have been in order.

Perhaps Labour should admit it got this (amongst other things) badly wrong. Re-opening closed post offices should be in the top ten commitments for a Jon Cruddas administration!