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.

7 Responses

  1. The BPB is a bit out in his chronology. There are Local Elections in 2011 and 2015: the latter perhaps coinciding with a General Election, unless the national coalition has crumbled by then.

    To look through the statistics provides a more complex, and certainly very interesting, picture than the BPB provides in this summary.

  2. Of course, as it stands, 2011 and 2015 will coincide with a votiong reform referendum and also (probably) a general election.

    I’m not sure that the SPNL by-election told us much beyond that we didn’t already know post Goldsmid by-election and the general election.

    I think it’s very unlikely that the Greens or Labour alone will be in a majority position on the city council come May 6th next year. I desperately hope the Tories are on the back foot and the Libs eliminated by then. I personally hope that Labour and Greens will have learnt to cooperate effectively by then too. It could well be the only way that Brighton and Hove council (at least) moderates the disgusting policies of this govt.

  3. I think the boundary changes being proposed by the government could make Caroline Lucas’s re-election problematic. There is going to be massive changes to the boundaries to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to between 585 and 600. An extra 6,000 electors are going to added on average to each constituency and 50-65 constituencies are going to ‘disappear’ altogether! This is the Tory price for the AV referendum.

    Maybe Brighton Pavilion will be one that ‘disappears’ and be replaced by a ‘Brighton’ constituency that incorporates Kemptown (without the coastal bits of Peacehaven etc). Or more likely in my opinion, seeing as it is the Tories and Lib Dems overseeing the changes, Brighton will be split into Brighton East and Brighton West both incorporating bits of Pavilion and Kemptown and more inland areas. Or maybe Pavilion will expand inland towards Lewes and Arundel creating a more rural constituency that will add thousands to the Tory vote. It will be more vital than ever for the Labour/Green vote not to split (assuming the AV referendum is lost – the Tory ‘no’ campaign intend to outspend the ‘yes’ campaign by 5 to 1), but the Greens will have to get used to their vote being gerrymandered into different constituencies and having to campaign in more rural Tory areas to make headway.

    The new boundaries are being rushed through for 2015 despite new boundaries being introduced just before the May 2010 election. Apparently political parties will have their right to appeal to boundary changes taken away from them under the new rules, and constituency boundaries will cross ward districts and county boundaries making it impossible for communities to keep track on which candidate or party is accountable in their area. All this to ‘equalise’ constituencies when already most constituencies are within 5,000 electors. The new aim is to reduce this to 2,500 electors.

    To make matters worse, these new boundaries will be drawn on the old electoral register (over 5 years out of date by 2015) that we know does not contain 3.5 million eligible electors. Unlike at present no account will be taken of the fact that urban constituencies (mostly Labour) have 25% od electors unregistered.

    To make matters EVEN worse, the government also plan to introduce ‘individual voter registration’ which in Northern Ireland reduced the register by some 5% – this could mean another million lost voters mainly in urban areas. This makes a mockery of the government’s claims to ‘equalise’ constituencies – they are almost certainly going to more unequal after this massive gerrymander is over. And the smaller parties like the Greens and voters even more disenfranchised and alienated.

    • There are all manner of theories in this post. But they key thing is: what is the proposed size of equal constituencies and how close are the B and H ones to this?

      That said, I rather agree that the national forces regard B and H as a troublesome patch.

  4. The proposed changes to constituencies will effect seats in the North East, Wales and Scotland, more so than any other region. The region least affected will be the South East.

    Brighton benefits from having more people move to the area, it is therefore unlikely that the Con/Dems will change the constituency.

  5. The BPB is cautious in asserting that Mike Wetherley will not be unseated next time in Hove. I had thought it could again be a narrow win by Celia Barlow, but learnt afterwards that she did not, for some reason, have a full team of canvassers by any means. It could be that in 2015 the Labour candidate finds disillusioned LibDem votes returning; equally, these could go to the Green candidate. I should say that Hove will be another hot spot: and a similar situation in Kemp Town.

  6. I went along to Brighton Town Hall yesterday to ask a Public Question about the return of the Committee system, and was struck by the fact that Councillor Mears’s heart did not appear to be in this. That tallies with her bringing in the Cabinet system a year ahead of decreed schedule.

    But, while listening to her reply to my Question and Supplementary (which at least revealed that there will be no referendum for a directly-elected mayor), I was struck by the fact as I stood and looked around at the semi-circle of Councillors that the Green party is by far the healthiest.

    Thi is no idle consideration when considering the rigours of mounting an election campaign, with all that it demands in going up and down hills, so many of which not only have basement steps and but ground floors which are up many steps.

    Other parties might sneer about a diet of pulses but in Pavilion and St Peter’s, these evidently fuelled campaigns which engaged the residents’ pulses. The vigour of Green canvassers made it evident to residents that a Green vote is a healthy vote.

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