Preston Park: A three way marginal that will decide the future of the City Council

And then there was Preston Park.  This is the last of my reviews of what might happen in next year’s local elections.  Preston Park (or Preston Ward) as it used to be known under different boundaries) was once solid Conservative.  You know the old adage that if you put a blue rosette on a monkey it would get elected.  Well, in a County Council election in 1989, I think, the Tory candidate was someone called Gibbon!  And, you guessed it, he lost.

The ward had become a relatively safe Labour seat until May 2007 when Green Amy Kennedy upset the normal order by topping the poll with 1,633 votes.  She was the product of the Green’s cunning plan of encouraging a vote for one Green candidate, allowing traditional Labour voters a protest while still giving the majority of their votes to the Labour candidates.  In Preston Park two Labour councillors were re-elected, Juliet McCaffery (1,630 votes) and Kevin Allen (1,474).  The third Labour candidate and the two other Greens all polled over 1,000 votes.

This is a genuine marginal between Labour and the Greens with the Tories now well adrift.  (However, I wouldn’t altogether write off their chances). Green Amy is a favourite of this blogger for her Delia Smith impersonation and shamelessly donning of a Stassi-style tabard at the Green Party conference.  Far more importantly, though, is her record on the Council, championing women’s issues, and her record on Planning issues.  I would hope that, at some point in the future, she will stand in a winnable parliamentary seat for the Greens.  Her work as a ward councillor has impressed, and her reputation could well sweep two other Greens onto the Council.  (In case anyone is wondering, I am not the Mr K referred to in her, sadly, inactive blog).  I just hope that her qualities will not take her into professional green planning pastures and away from local politics.

Preston Park is a must win seat for the Greens should they wish to become the largest party on the Council.  My recommendation to voters in Preston Park is to vote Green, Green and, with their third vote, Green.

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Queens Park: One of three key seats that will decide the Council in May 2011

Queens Park provided a complete body blow to Labour at the last local elections when three of its most senior members were beaten by the Greens.  Green Rachel Fryer topped the poll with a massive 1,826 votes, followed by Paul Steedman (1,549) and Ben Duncan (1,473).  The top Labour candidate was Delia Forrester just 15 votes behind Ben Duncan on 1,458 votes.  Former leader of the Council, Ken Bodfish was fifth (1,455) and the then Leader of the Council and Labour’s prospective candidate in Brighton Kemp Town, Simon Burgess (1,418).  The introduction of the School Place Lottery cost Labour dear.  The nice folk on East and West Drive didn’t want their darlings mixing with the ruffians from the Council estates.

This result was the low point for Labour at this election, and symbolised the unpopularity of the Labour Council.  The Greens had hoped to win one of the three seats, but won all three.  The three new councillors have worked very hard, are widely respected, and would expect to win all three again next May.  But there is a potential problem.  At one point it looked as though all three would be standing down in May, but they are reconsidering their positions.  Ben Duncan is definitely standing. He is probably the most high profile of the three, although both Rachel and Paul are highly respected within the ward and beyond.  I personally hope that at least one, if not both, will be on the ballot paper with Ben in May.

The Greens must hold all three seats in Queens Park if they are to become the largest party on the Council.  Even if Rachel and Paul don’t stand, the reputation of the Green Party in this ward should see them home.

For Labour, the three young men selected (Dan Chapman, Chris Cook and Tom French) will no doubt put in a strong performance, but their appeal will be limited. All three would hope to poll well in the gay community, but  Ben Duncan has a strong track record on campaigning on LGBT issues in the ward and beyond.  The Queens Park mafia broke the local party, and there is little enthusiasm or campaigning experience within the local Labour Party.  The unpopularity of Bodfish Forrester and Burgess might continue to be reflected in May’s poll.

Queens Park will be one of the key seats in May, and the result here will provide an indication whether Labour has turned the corner or whether its decline is still terminal.

I would like to see the Greens become the largest Party, not because I am a Green but because I think the Greens have the most energy and ideas locally.  Labour has had its opportunity and don’t deserve to get back in, not yet, anyway.

Regency: vote Green to keep the Tories out and to protest against Labour-supported witch hunt against Jason Kitcat

The result in Regency Ward in May 2007 epitomised the unexpected success across Brighton of the Greens.  The Greens expected to do well but not win the number of seats that they actually did.  One of the newly elected councillors, Hermione Roy, resigned her seat after a few months, allowing the election of the irrepressible  Jason Kitcat.

Regency is one of the few wards in the city that has returned Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem and Green councillors in recent years.  It remains a true four way marginal.  Until the mid 1980s it was a safe Tory area, then it went Labour as Labour won control of the old Brighton Council.  Later, the seats were shared between Labour and the Lib Dems (the Lib Dem clearly hadn’t expected to win), before the clean sweep by the Greens in 2007.

In May it will lose one of its current Green councillors as Sven Rufus moves to stand in Hollingbury and Stanmer ward.  This move is an indication of the ambition of the Green Party, that a sitting councillor is willing to stand in a ward that is winnable, but not a certain gain.

Jason Kitcat will be re-elected, and I predict with a massive majority.  There are two reason for this prediction.  Firstly, he is an outstanding ward councillor, tireless, hard-working, and easily recognisable. (His surname, in this respect, is an asset).  In my dealings with him he has ben diligent and reasonable, unlike some other councillors. 

Secondly, he is seen as the victim of a witch hunt by a combination of Labour and Conservatives.  The complaint against him to, and the decision by, the Standards Committee seems petty.  He faces a further hearing on 3rd November that could see him suspended from office for up to 6 months. It is my view that nobody should remove an elected representative other than the electorate.  Nobody likes bullies and I hope that the vote in May will see him elected with a significantly increased majority.

I advocate a vote for the Greens in Regency, both tactically to keep the Tories out and a protest against Labour’s collusion in the witch hunt against Jason Kitcat.

St Peters and North Laine – vote with your conscience

St Peters and North Laine was the birthplace of the Greens in Brighton and Hove when Pete West won their first-ever seat in the city.  This once Tory seat (there have been some boundary changes), became safe Labour in the 1980s and early 1990s.  But Blair’s New Labour saw to that with members of the left and right leaving in droves.

Now it is the safest Green seat.  In May 2007 Pete West, Keith Taylor and Ian Davey all polled over 2,000 votes with the best placed Labour candidate, Sarah Ogden, polling just 979 votes. 

In a recent by-election, caused by Keith Taylor succeeding to the European Parliament seat vacated by Caroline Lucas on her election to Westminster, the Green Lizzie Dean was the comfortable winner. The energetic campaign run by Labour’s Tom French, hardly dented the Green majority.

St Peters and North Laine will return 3 Green councillors in May.  It is an area where there is no danger of the Tories benefiting from a split Labour / Green vote.  Therefore, I don’t need to advocate tactical voting and suggest anti-Tory (and former Lib Dem voters) to vote according to their conscience.

Lost and confused in Hollingbury and Hollingdean

Green councillor Alex Phillips has taken me to task for getting the name of a Brighton ward wrong.  I have been calling it Hollingbury and Stanmer but she points out that it is Hollingdean and Stanmer. As always, Ms Phillips is correct.  It is Hollingdean … now, but at the last election it was Hollingbury, so I am also correct.  But point taken.  I will try harder.

The balance of power on the City Council rests on Preston Park, Queens Park, Regency, and St Peter’s and North Laine

So far I have reviewed the prospects for next May’s local elections of every ward in Brighton and Hove other that Preston Park, Queens Park, Regency and St Peter’s and North Laine.

I predict that Labour will regain the two seats lost in May 2007 in North Portslade and South Portslade but will not be successful in Hangleton and Knoll (Labour might just grab one seat but certainly not all three).

I think that the Tories will hold Hangleton and Knoll and gain a seat in Moulsecoomb and Bevendean, as well as weigh in heavily in their traditional strongholds.  In spite of the optimism of Christopher Hawtree and Maxxxxie, I can’t in all truth think that defeats for the Tories in Patcham and Rottingdean Coastal are possibilities.  But good luck to the Save the Lido campaigners, nevertheless.

And while I am about it, thanks to Andy Richards for correcting my poor knowledge of the electoral history of Hove.  He writes: “Labour had all three Hove Borough seats in Wish from 1995 to 1997, and held 2 of them in the first years of the new unitary council. Heather James later won a seat there for Labour in a by-election. I don’t need to rely on Wiki……I was the Labour election agent for some of that time!”   He adds: “The Lib Dems held the Westbourne County Council seat for some time in the 80′s/90′s.”  Thanks, Andy, I stand corrected.

Finally, Andy Richards askes: “If anyone can think of a single independent thing the “Independent” Jayne Bennett has ever done, do tell!”.  From memory, Andy, I think Jayne resigned the Tory whip in order to head the successful campaign to retain a breast cancer unit in Brighton.  She felt being a party politician would undermine the campaign.  I personally think the Council would do well to have more independents, including single issue campaigners who could focus on that issue as well as representing their ward constituents.

Back to my predictions.  The Greens could win Brunswick and Adelaide, and pick up the other two seats in Goldsmid.  Most interestingly, the Greens could pick up two seats in Hollingbury and Stanmer.

Should all this happen, and should all other seats remain with the party currently in place, it would give the Tories 19 seats, Labour 14 and the Greens 10.  It is what will happen in Preston Park, Queens Park, Regency, and St Peters and North Laine where the final eleven seats are up for grabs.

Labour currently holds 2 of these seats, but will be keen to keen return 6 of these 11 councillors. The Greens currently hold 9 of these seats, having displaced Labour in areas like Queens Park and one of the Preston Park seats.  They will be looking to win all 11 to make them the biggest Party on the Council.  As for the Tories, their best chance of picking up seats from these wards will be in Preston Park and, in a good year for them, the two Regency seats.

I will continue my review tomorrow with a look at St Peters and North Laine.

Portslade – the Carden and Hamilton dynasties prevented total humiliation for Labour

North Portslade and South Portslade both saw one Labour and one Conservative elected in May 2007.  In North Portslade, long-standing Labour councillor Bob Carden topped the poll with 1,142 votes with Tory Trevor Alford second on 1,082.  The Tories were third with Labour’s second candidate fourth.

It was a similar story in South Portslade where Labour’s Les Hamilton polled 1,119 votes. The Tories had Steve Harmer-Strange elected with 1,061 votes.  The Tories filled third place and Labour fourth.

It was clearly the Carden name and his personal vote that saved Bob, as it was with Les Hamilton (but not with Brian Fitch in Hangleton and Knoll).  Cardens go back to the 1920s in Brighton, with Herbert Carden being responsible for the City’s huge land holding, more than 10,000 acres and more than a dozen farms.  Carden Avenue is named after Herbert.

As for Les Hamilton, he used to hold the seat with his dad, also called Les Hamilton.  It sometimes feels as though there have been Les Hamiltons going back a thousand generations in Hove politics.

While Bob and Les have done well, dynastic politics can have the great weakness of poor party organisation and renewal. Labour paid the price for this in 2007.

If Labour is serious about becoming, once again, a serious force in local politics, it must win all four seats in May 2011 in the two Porslade wards.  In both wards the Lib Dems and the Greens came absolutely nowhere.  So it is an easy recommendation that anti-Tory tactical voters should vote Labour.