Reflections on the St Peter’s and North Laine by-election

The by-election result contains two important messages.  First, the Greens are the party with momentum.  With ten months to go, the Greens need to decide just what its ambitions are.  Does the party wish to take control of the City Council next May? 

An overall majority will be a poison chalice given that the worst of the cuts will be implemented in the three years from April 2011, and the Greens will have little room for manoeuvre unless its councillors are willing to be the local authority that defies the Coalition Government.  The price to be paid by individual councillors might be enormous.  But given the momentum of the Greens, any ambition short of overall control will not look good and will portray the Greens as a party purely for opposition. 

If the Greens are the largest party but fall short of a majority, there will be an expectation that they try to form a coalition of its own, probably with the rump of Labour councillors who survive the cull next May.  A minority administration is probably the best option for the Greens since they will be able to oppose the cuts only to be voted down time and again by the Conservatives and Labour.

It is exciting times to be a Green, but the prospects of power are not that attractive.  It will require the Greens to be disciplined, and they may have to adapt their cultural stance regarding a single leader and group discipline – they will need both!

What of Labour?  Labour needs the tide to turn, but in Brighton and Hove the tide is flowing with the Greens and the unpopularity of the Coalition Government will benefit them rather than Labour. 

What Labour needs is two things: a break-through candidate and a break-through issue.  In Caroline Lucas the Greens had a break-through candidate.  Without Lucas, the Greens may not have achieved its historic win in Brighton Pavilion.  While Labour has some first-rate candidates, Tom French being one, there is no sign of any break-through candidates for the Council election or next general election.  It needs to be someone truly outstanding.

There is also no obvious break-through issue.  Opposing the cuts will be popular, but the Greens, again, will likely reap the benefit given the high profile enjoyed by Caroline Lucas and her sheer competence.

Labour’s best bet is Caroline Lucas standing down after one term (unthinkable) and the Greens forming the administration on the City Council and then doing a Steve Bassam by implementing the cuts programme as Lord Bassam did by implementing the Poll Tax.  This scenario is equally unthinkable.

Labour can expect to lose heavily to the Greens next May, and the Greens should now be looking to take seats from the Tories.  The Greens will retain its dominant position in the following local elections (2014?) before Caroline Lucas massively increases her majority in May 2015.  Labour could win Brighton Kemptown in 2015, though it is unlikely to unseat Mike Weatherly.  If Labour forms the government in 2015, it will not recover to do well in the 2017 locals. 

So Labour cannot expect to recover its position on Brighton and Hove City Council until at least 2020.  This is not an encouraging outlook for the likes of Tom French and the other young, enthusiastic activists.  By 2020 they will not be as young and one has to question whether they will retain their enthusiasm.

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Jason Kitcat should be applauded for his actions not suspended from office by a non-elected panel

The decision on the “standards committee” of Brighton and Hove City Council to suspend Councillor Jason Kitcat is shameful.  The panel found that Cllr Kitcat’s use of a video from a Council meeting was “political” and improper, particularly in regard to one “highly edited” clip of an exchange between Councillor  Geoffrey Theobald and the then mayor, Councillor Garry Peltzer Dunn.

I for one am disgusted that a non-elected panel can suspend a councillor who has been democratically elected.  There is such limited media coverage of the debates of councillors on the City Council that any democrat would welcome wider coverage, no matter how “political” it is.  If Cllr Kitcat has ‘spun’ the item, then confront him politically.  Don’t hide behind an undemocratic panel.  This is politics, councillors are all adults. 

If Cllr Kitcat has done wrong, the way to deal with him is next May in the Council elections. I suspect that Cllr Kitcat will be re-elected with a massive majority in Regency Ward.  He is one of the finest and most hard-working councillors in Brighton and Hove.  His reputation is enhanced by his opponents actions.

I imagine Geoffrey Theobald, who can mix it with the best of them, must be terribly embarrassed that his colleague, Councillor Ted Kemble, made the original complaint.  Geoffrey doesn’t need the protection of this undemocratic panel to hide his policies.

What amazes me is that the Council is about to deliberate about what cuts they are to make, cuts on an unprecedented level.  The Coalition Government wants public input.  How can we participate if we don’t have information and the widest diversity of views.

Jason Kitcat should be applauded for what he has done.  He shouldn’t apologise.  He should be encouraged to carry on tweeting from Council meetings and posting videos, views and information on whatever media is available.

The person who can resolve this is Geoffrey Theobald who, I know, is sufficiently experienced in politics not to allow himself to be diminished by the complaint of Cllr Kemble and the ruling of the panel.  He should say that an apology is not wanted nor called for.

St Peter’s and North Laine by-election: huge victory for the Greens but Tom French can be proud of his performance

Congratulations to Lizzie Deane for a comprehensive victory in the St Peter’s and North Laine by-election. The scale of the victory, and the volume of votes secured, shows that the Greens are riding very high in Brighton and Hove.

The result:

  1. Lizzie Deane (Green) 1,816
  2. Tom French (Labour)  880
  3. Rob Buckwell (Conservative) 365
  4. Trefor Hunter (Lib Dem) 103
  5. Gerald O’Brien (Independent) 32

Labour’s Tom French put in an admirable performance.  In may ways he had an excellent campaign, one that marks him out as one of Labour’s exceptional candidates for the future.

But even with the quality of Labour’s campaign, it did not make even the smallest dent in the Greens stranglehold on St Peter’s and North Laine.  And before Labour dismisses the result as predictable in the Green heartland, it should see this as a warning for next May.  The Greens will not just hold its current seats, it will effectively target a number of traditionally Labour areas and a few vulnerable Tory seats (and hopefully the 2 Lib Dem seats).

Some impressive young candidates will not be enough for Labour.  The high visibility Labour Leadership campaign, together with Ed Milliband campaigning in the ward, is not doing it for Labour.  While there will be a reaction locally against the Coalition Government’s cuts programme, that anger is likely to be channeled into protest votes locally for the Greens rather than Labour.

The conditions are perfect for the Greens to make a second historic breakthrough locally.  With Caroline Lucas in parliament, the Greens should become the largest party on the Council and, who knows, could just get a majority if Tory seats can be effectively targeted.

Tom French will be hugely disappointed, but he should take heart from his personal performance.  His reputation will have ben enhanced, and he will have learned a great deal from the campaign and result that will prepare him better for future campaigns.

But this morning belongs to Lizzie Deane. Enjoy the day, and have some time off ….. until Sunday.  Then all Greens must get out on the streets, recruiting madly in St Peters and North Laine but, more importantly, in Labour and Tory heartlands.  The campaign for the City Council in May 2011 begins here.

St Peter’s and North Laine by-election: vote for Tom French

Good luck to both Tom French and Lizzie Deane in tomorrow’s St Peter’s and North Laine by-election.  It is good that those of you with a vote in the election can expres your choice without having to consider voting tactically.  It is a two horse race, and you can express your preference without worrying about letting the Tories or their feeble baby brother, the Lib Dems, through the middle.

As I have oftn stated in this blog, I hope that the Greens win next year’s local elections in Brighton and Hove, that they will be the largest party even if they don’t achieve a majority.  Winning the by-election is important to the Greens but not essential.  Losing the seat will be a set back, but not a disaster. 

Bearing this in mind, and having considered the merits of Tom and Lizzie, I am urging that people vote for Tom French.  With dynamic candidates like Tom, and with the prospect of Labour becoming renewed, it will be an interesting time for politics in Brighton and Hove over the next 12 months for those of us who are non-aligned on the left.

My hope is that next May the Greens are the largest party, followed by Labour, with the Tories down to single figures on the Council.  As for the Lib Dems, much deserved oblivion awaits in Brighton and Hove.

Jean Calder – hedging her bets by supporting both candidates in St Peter’s and North Laine by-election

Two days to go before the St Peter’s and North Laine by-election and there is an oddity in the leaflets of both the Labour candidate, Tom French, and the Green candidate, Lizzie Deane.  Both are claiming to have been endorsed by former Labour councillor, Jean Calder. 

In the Green leaflet, Ms Calder applauds the support given by the Green Party in the campaign to save St Peter’s Church.  Jean Calder is the Convenor (a very Green concept) of the Friends of  St Peter’s Church.

Then tonight a leaflet is being distributed in St Peter’s and North Laine and there, again, is Ms Calder praising Tom French and saying that the Greens should have recruited him. 

Democracy is usually about deciding which candidate you wish to vote for.  Jean Calder seems to have taken it one step further – wanting to support the two leading candidates.  At least she is hedging her bets and will be able to claim she supported the winning candidate!  Now that’s what I call tactical voting.

A Tom French win could be good news for the Greens in Brighton

It is unlikely to happen – a Labour win in the St Peter’s and North Laine by-election on Thursday.  Labour’s Tom French has excelled as one of an exciting breed of young, enthusiastic Labour candidates, bringing much of the same energy and determination that characterised Labour in Brighton during the mid-19980s.  Tom will probably come a creditable second, although a win is not completely unthinkable. His time will come.

Of course a Labour win would be sensational, as was Alex Phillips’s election in the Goldsmid by-election almost a year ago to the day.  It would give Labour such a boost in the year before crucial council elections.  (Why do we say “crucial council elections”?  All elections are crucial or critical or important!).

But a Labour victory might not be a disaster for the Greens.  Of course they would never want to lose their safest seat, but it might just give them one almightly kick up the backside.  It would remind the Greens that elections are won on year-round campaigning, high profile candidates and councillors, and a clinical approach toi building the party and running election campaigns.

So where do I stand?  I would love to see Tom French elected on Thursday.  But I also don’t want to see the Greens diminished in any way on the Council.  The Lib Dems and their Tory partners have no hope.  So it allows those of you with a vote in St Peter’s and North Laine to vote for either the Labour or Green candidate without any fear of letting the Tories slip through the middle.

What I really want is the Greens to be fantastically successful next May, to end up as the largest Party.  I predict they will secure 20 seats next May.  With a real effort, some great candidates, and the people of Brighton and Hove waking up to the nightmare that is the Lib Dem Coalition, the Greens could just get a majority.  Now that would be wonderful.

St Peter’s and North Laine by-election: strong showing by Labour’s Tom French

Next Thursday is the St Peter’s and North Laine by-election. What is encouraging for the Labour Party is the performance of its candidate, the impressive Tom French.  He has run a high profile and energetic campaign.  He is just what the Labour Party needs following the general election.

So could Labour’s revival begin in this by-election.  It could be argued that the Green’s win in Brighton Pavilion got the Big Mo, momentum, from the Goldsmid by-election (even though Goldsmid is in neighbouring Hove).  In Goldsmid the Greens fielded 24 year old Alex Phillips.  She was enthusiastic, well-liked, impressive.  In St Peter’s and North Laine, Labour has a 24 year old, enthusiastic, well-liked, impressive candidate. The Greens had never won in Goldsmid, nor for that matter in any ward in Hove. It is many years since Labour came even close in St Peter’s and North Laine and, before that, in the old St Peter’s Ward.

But can the “positive, passionate and dedicated” Tom French win? (That was a quote from his election address going out this weekend).  He is “local and active in our community”, and he is “listening and acting on your concerns”.  Tom French is a strong candidate, quite comfortably the most impressive of all the candidates. Trefor Hunter (Lib Dem) will do as well as he has done in countless elections over the past 25 years in Brighton – he will lose.  Rob Buckwell, the Conservative candidate, is a nice young man, but he doesn’t have it, at least not yet.  He can repeat Tory Party policies but he lacks the instincts required of a successful local politician – to make the issues of local residents the ones he champions.  And finally, Lizzie Deane.  What can I say?  She has run a very low-key campaign, hardly seen, even spending a weekend away in London.  Does she actually want to be a councillor?

What will probably happen is Lizzie Deane will hold the seat for the Greens with a much reduced majority over Tom French, with the Lib Dems and Tories contesting who will come a very poor fourth place.  The Greens would be wrong to dismiss any collapse in its majority as normal poor turn-out in a by-election.  After the success of Caroline Lucas in the general election, the Greens should romp home with a four figure majority.  It should be a wake-up call for the Green Party, its councillors and candidates.  If it is to break through the 20 councillor mark next May (and I really hope it does), it must ensure that it runs campaigns that epitomise its ambitions, not a half-hearted campaign as it has run in St Peter’s and North Laine.

As for Tom French, keep up the fight.  The City Council would benefit from someone of his calibre. I will watch his progress with much interest.