Brighton and Hove Liberal Democrats having a bust-up in a telephone box

What on earth is happening to the local Liberal Democrats?  They have deselect David Watkins, one of just two councillors they have on the City Council.  It is not that the Lib Dems are top of the popularity stakes just now and can afford to dispense with the service of David who is well liked and respected in Brunswick and Adelaide.

The other Lib Dem councillor, Paul Elgood, seems to be doing everything possible to attack Labour.  Could it be that he is looking to jump ship in order to join the Tories while David is looking towards Labour?  In the Argus on Tuesday, Elgood praises the Coalition Government for plans to improve post offices.  Funny, he makes no mention of proposed cuts across the public sector.  In his blog he praises Mark Collins, the Liberal Democrat Candidate for Central Hove ward in next May’s city elections, who “has re-affirmed our commitment to oppose any increase in the tuition fees”.  This leaves me a bit confused.  Does Cllr Elgood not know that his Leader, Nick Clegg, is justifying an increase in tuition fees as “progressive”?  Is he not aware that public anger is focused well and truly at the Lib Dems for betraying the commitment to vote against any increase in tuition fees?

Roll on May 2011.  It will be “farewell, Liberal Democrats in Brighton and Hove” (and in many places across the country).

The right and wrong way to demonstrate

Today we saw the best and worst aspects of protest.  Students from around the country descended on Westminster to protest against the decision to raise tuition fees, with particular anger focused on the Lib Dems, all of whose MPs pledged to oppose such an increase. 

It is many years since students were mobilised in such numbers, and a great deal of credit should go to the National Union of Students.  They had a serious, important point to make, and they were making it well until …..

….. an ill-disciplined group including non-student anarchists, occupied Millbank towers, which includes the offices of the Conservative Party.  One idiot, who I hope is identified and prosecuted, threw a fire extinguisher off the roof, missing a police officer by a matter of feet.  Swept up in this group were many very young protesters, probably school children who had joined the demonstration to protest against the cut to Education Maintenance Allowance.

Sadly, the demonstration will be characterised and remembered for the violent episode at Millbank.  One reassuring aspect, though, was the restraint demonstrated by the Metropolitan Police.  Of course they, too, are facing cuts.  They have also been stung by criticism of their handling of previous climate change demonstrations.

I would propose a demonstrators charter that protesters are required by organisers of demonstration to abide by otherwise they should be excluded from the demonstrations.  The charter could include:

  • No taunting of the police (some people come to demonstrations to have a pop at the police; the police are not the target of most protests)
  • No break-away groups (it allows the police to justify kettling)
  • No alcohol and drugs (protests need to be focused and disciplined)
  • Normally have live music (it raises spirits and sets a certain tone)
  • Walk in ordered rows and columns (a protest should not resemble an amble in the park)
  • Everyone should wear a common colour (green, red, black, etc.)
  • Protests should be safe for children and older citizens, so language should be appropriate.

In response, the police should be required to respect a disciplined protest and ensure that its command and conduct does not provoke or exacerbate the situation.

I imagine many people will think I’m barking, but if you have ever been on, or witnessed, serious and disciplined demonstrations (for example, republican demonstrations in Belfast or protests under Apartheid in South Africa), you will appreciate the importance of discipline and the power of such a protest.

Ben Duncan – the “Standards Committee” madness continues

Just when it appeared that sanity had returned to the democratic process with the clearing of Jason Kitcat following the party-political inspired vendetta against him, news comes of a fresh attack on another Green councillor.

Queens Park councillor Ben Duncan has been told that a formal standards committee will examine a blog he wrote about the policing of a demonstration in Brighton.  It was another “standards committee” that led to the fiasco against Jason Kitcat that has cost local people “thousands of Pounds”.

The name of the complainant is not yet known, nor the precise allegations against councillor Duncan.  What is it about Tory, Labour and Lib Dem councillors (all of whom were implicated in the witch-hunt against Jason Kitcat) that they resort to the tactics of school prefect bullies.  It is one thing to disagree with your political opponents, and to attack them for their views, but to try to silence them through the use of a proceduralistic measure, such as a so-called “standards committee” when there is an in-built majority of your political opponents is a disgrace.

Politicians should be free to blog, to criticise policing of demonstrations, as Ben Duncan has done.  They shouldn’t be personally critical of ordinary council officers, although political opponents are fair game.

Ben Duncan has commented: “Standards procedures are about preventing fraud, dishonesty, corruption in public life, or bringing the council into disrepute.  If it is a matter of political diagreement about a matter of policyit is entirely inappropriate for a public body to investigate and for the taxpayer to foot the bill”.

I call on the leaders of all political groups on the City Council (Mary Mears, Gill Mitchell, Bill Randall, and Paul Elgood) to come togther to say that they disapprove of the standards procedures being used to surpress political comment and will condemn any group members who becomes involved in surpressing free speech.

Jason Kitcat – total vindication as he is cleared in Council witchhunt

“A victory for openness and democracy” claimed Green councillor Jason Kitcat as the case against him was thrown out by a Tribunal set up to hear the case.  Brighton and Hove City Council is said to have spend “thousands” bringing the case, at a time when they are planning millions of Pounds of cuts.

Those councillors who made the initial allegation against Jason (that would be Tory councillor Ted Kemble, supported by Council Leader Mary Mears and Deputy Leader Brian Oxley) and those who sat on the panel (Labour councillor Jeane Lepper and Lib Dem councillor David Watkins) should hang their heads in shame.

Better still, their involvement in this shameful episode, should be made an electoral issue next May.

Not only is there wide support for Jason Kitcat, condemnation of the action taken against him, not least the squandering of public funds for what some may feel has been party political ends, has come from Tory government ministers Eric Pickles and Grant Shapps.

So a great result for Jason Kitcat and for democracy.  Councillors should not have undemocratic power to deny political representation to voters, particularly when that representation is provided by those councillors’ political opponents.

So, is the end of the affair.  I hope not.  There must be full disclosure regarding the waste of public funds.  I would also suggest those who took action against Jason Kitcat should consider their suitability to hold specific office within the Council.

A round-up of political blogs in Brighton and Hove (Part 3)

Apologies for the delay in posting part 3 of my occasional round-up of Brighton (and Hove) political blogs.

Jason Kitcat writes one of the more interesting local blogs, as expected from one of the more interesting councillors.  There has been some focus, understandable, on the case brought against him by vindictive and narrow-minded Tory, Ted Kemble. I was delighted to see that Councillor Kitcat has been cleared this week by an independent Tribunal.  But Jason’s blog provides interesting and informative coverage of the Council and the cuts.  He even provides links to the occasional YouTube video of Geoffrey Theobald! Jason Kitcat’s blog is good news for the blogosphere, and Jason Kitcat is good news for the City Council.

Paul Perrin is a nice man but why on earth has he got such extremist views?  Paul should feel at home in the Tory Party, but he believes the Conservatives are far too pro-Europe, something the rest of us think is a laughable position.  Instead he remains in UKIP where all he can do is snipe from the sidelines.  His blog “Free People of England” describes the Conservatives as “the new party of the left” and refers back to speech made at a Tory Party conference in 1977.  It may have been a speech by William Hague, but he was a child then, for goodness sake. Have a look at his blog, but don’t let it convince you – not through argument but by comparison – that the Tories are a moderate party.

Andy Richards’ blog, People’s Republic of Hove, is a straightforward, uncomplicated, unreconstructed blog of the old left, and Andy is a straightforward, uncomplicated, unreconstructed activist of the left.  His blog provides a good reminder of the left in its glory days of the 1980’s.  I agree with much of what he says, but feel that he does little more than preach to the converted.  I hope he can prove me wrong, but I suspect he is leading the left and his union members to an heroic defeat.

Paul Elgood’s Brunswick Blog is little more than an electronic version of a Liberal Focus leaflet.  The blog tries, and fails, to reassure voters that the Lib Dems are anything other than the party that has made it possible for the Tories to destroy public services by making unprecendented cuts.  Danny Alexander, David Laws, Nick Clegg, Vince Cable are, I believe, Lib Dems.  No, Paul, it won’t wash.  Thank you for your service to the City, and enjoy your political retirement.

And then there is the Brighton Politics Blogger.  It has been described as “a load of twaddle”, “clearly narcissistic and inconsequential”, “superficial, snide and irrelevant”, and “it  is just not very good”.  What do you think?