Goldsmid – a three-way marginal that the Greens really must win to become the largest group on Brighton & Hove City Council

In Hove, the most interesting seat is surely Goldsmid and all three parties in Brighton and Hove (given its sole councillor and standing at 8% in recent opinion polls, I don’t think we need to regard the Lib Dems as a viable party locally) believe they can win the three seats in Goldsmid.

Currently, all three parties have one councillor, Ayas Fallon-Khan (Conservative), Melanie Davis (Labour) and Alex Phillips (Green).  Councillor Fallon-Khan has been deselected by the Tories and will be standing in Moulsecoomb and Bevendean where (to the shame of Labour) he has a better chance than not of being elected partly due to his own personal strengths and because of the work undertaken by the sitting ward councillor Maria Caulfield.  Fallon-Khan’s deselection will significantly reduce the Tory’s chance of holding a seat and I predict that they will go away empty handed in May.  A challenge for residents in Goldsmid is to identify the Tory candidates for the ward.  It appears to be a well-guarded secret, and long may that last.

Melanie Davis has worked consistently since elected last time out, but she will struggle with the dire state of the Labour Party in Hove, and in the east wards of Hove in particular.  A quick look at Brighton Labour Party’s website shows out of date it is, some sections have been ‘under construction’ for many months, and has no reference to May’s local elections nor a list of candidates.  (The latter omission may be wise since Labour is struggling to find candidates in several seats in Hove).  The website is symbolic of a locally party on its knees.  While there is activity elsewhere in Brighton (Queen’s Park, East Brighton, Regency and, em, well, err, somewhere else, I’m sure), Labour in Brighton and Hove is a poor shadow of its former self. 

Back to Labour in Goldsmid, it at least has its own website.  But a website is a two-edged sword.  In reporting Labour’s track record in Goldsmid, there are only 6 entries since September 2008, and some are attacks on the City Council and the Tory councillor.  It also provides links to its most recent leaflets, the most recent two having been published in Spring and Summer 2010 (oh, dear, not much ambition there).

On the plus side, Labour in Goldsmid has selected three candidates (important if you want to win an election!). They are Lis Telcs (who was soundly beaten in the Goldsmid by-election a couple of years ago by the Green’s Alex Phillips), Nigel Jenner (about whom I know absolutely nothing – he must be a footballer, then) and councillor Melanie Davis.  Melanie should survive but I can’t see Labour doing any better than that.  Her defeat would signify a crushing defeat for Labour in Brighton and Hove, something that can’t be ruled out.

Alex Phillips is one of the sitting councillor in Goldsmid having won the 2009 by-election giving the Greens their first ever councillor in Hove and critical momentum for Caroline Lucas’ successful campaign for Parliament in 2010.  Alex, who works part time for Keith Taylor (who replaced Caroline Lucas as MEP in the south east) has nurtured the ward since her election and should be re-elected without too much difficulty.  She will be joined in the election by science teacher Rob Jarrett and ‘young mum’ Ruth Buckley.  Rob has been around forever, popping up here and there on different campaigns over the years.  Ruth Buckley is relatively new to electoral politics, but part of a generation, particularly women, inspired by Caroline Lucas.  The Lucas effect stretches beyond Brighton Pavilion and could result in a Green clean-sweep in Goldsmid.

However, if the Greens fail to make progress in Hove and in Goldsmid in particular, their hope of becoming the largest party on the City Council will be dashed.

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Falling Lib Dem support in Brunswick and Adelaide and Brian Fitch to save the number 5 bus to Hangleton

Love him or loathe him, few are neutral about Paul Elgood.  Michael Taggart clearly regards councillor Elgood as one of his nearest and dearest when he writes “Paul Elgood is probably the shallowest, most vacuous person I have ever had the misfortune to work with. I shall not miss him when he is forced to find something else to do after the May elections.”  You need to get out more, Michael. 

Clive provides some comfort for Paul Elgood (who, for the record, is not the shallowest, most vacuous person I have ever met).  Clive quotes the Lib Dem vote from recent general elections in Hove and Portslade:

2001: Harold da Souza (Lib Dem) 3823 (9.1%)
2005: Paul Elgood (Lib Dem) 8002 (17.9%)
2010: Paul Elgood (Lib Dem) 11240 (22.6%)

He says that Paul Elgood must have been doing something right. Clive is wrong when trying to draw some conclusion about Paul Elgood’s standing in Brunswich and Adelaide by referencing votes in a general election. Once again I turn to Michael Taggart of the Paul Elgood Fan Club who writes:  “In 2007, Mr Elgood won a measly 942 of over 4,000 votes. David Watkins, now standing against him, had only 200 fewer and two Green candidates had between 400 and 500 votes. That was 4 years ago – before the march of the Greens and before the slump in popularity nationally of the Lib Dems in opinion polls. Add to this that Mr Elgood’s popularity is seemingly on the wane – in 2003, he polled 1,222 votes with no-one else except Mr Watkins polling even half that number – and he certainly has a fight on his hands.”

My view is that a strong campaign by Ollie Sykes and Phelim MacCafferty of the Greens (which is likely), the Lib Dem vote being split between Elgood and David Watkins, and the hopeless state of Labour in the ward, the Greens are in with a realistic chance of winning both seats.

(Regarding being ‘shallow and vacuous’, Clive asks whether Michael Taggart has ever met any of B&H’s current Tory leadership.  Cheap shot, Clive.  Cheap shots are my preserve.)
But more exciting than even a Green win in Brunswick and Adelaide, is Christopher Hawtree’s news that Brian Fitch is returning to Hangleton and asks whether there will be a campaign to save the number 5 bus.  There is a rich vein fpor campaigning here, me thinks.  Does anyone want to launch a campaign to save the number 50 bus to Hollingdean.  It isn’t under threat but, boy, what a great campaigning platform.  (I mentioned the number 50 without reference to Chuck Vere.  A first for me).

Who said what about Mary Mears? She’s certainly not gutless or clueless.

A right unholy spat took place at the meeting of Brighton and Hove City Council on Thursday night, and it is being suggested that legal action might be taken by two party leaders.

Before proceding any further, can I make it 100% clear, Council leader Mary Mears has no family connection whatsoever to Mears Maintenance Group which has a £200 million contract to provide property maintenance for all City Council housing properties.

Regular readers may have noticed that I am not a Tory but I respect politicians of that party who are competent.  Labour and Green activists are known to rubbish, even mock, Mary Mears. More fools are they.  In all my time of observing Brighton politics (back to the heady days of Steve Bassam’s leadership of the Council), there have been fewer politicians as able as Mary Mears. Energetic, focused and ruthless, Mary’s leadership will mean that Tory losses in May will not be as extreme as they might have been.

So what happened at the Council meeting?  Mary alleged that opposition councillors had been spreading a falsehood that she was connected to the property maintnance company.  When pressed, she is said to have named Labour leader Gill Mitchell but later withdrew this counter allegation.

Both are considering legal action, but a more likely outcome will be reference to the standards committee.  False allegations about contracts and family connections are serious and potentially very damaging, but you makes them at your peril.  Naming a political opponent for spreading falsehoods is not at all attractive, but it isn’t in the same class as alleging corruption.  Name calling is an ugly part of the cut and thrust of sectarian discours and Gill Mitchell should treat it as water off a duck’s back.

Regarding name calling, it was a lively Council meeting, as is usual in the run-up to a local election.  There were a couple of lovely soundbites, as reported in today’s Argus.  Green convenor, councillor Bill Randall (one of the Council’s few heavy weights, politically of course) said: “I do not believe that the Tories are evil but they are happy to do the devil’s work”.  In response, Conservative councillor Tony Janio (who is another reason why the Tories will defend key seats in May) described the Green Party as “nuttier than a nutty fruit cake”. And finally, Tory Ayas Fallon-Khan described the Labour Group as “gutless” and “clueless”.

The campaign in Queens Park is getting lively and turning nasty!

Labour’s Tom French alleges that Green Queens Park councillor Ben Duncan was “slated by member of public for not attending 6 Police Authority meetings”.  Really?  The public no less.  Everyone of them?  Tom French then says that the Tories  “refuse to protect local bus services in Queen’s Park”.  The infamous, number 81 no less, the one with ‘Brian Fitch’ on the front.  He calls on another Green councillor, Jason Kitcat, to support the campaign to save the number 81.  Councillor Kitcat replies “if valued bus services are being actually cut then I’d be very very worried. But no firm signs of that yet”.  Then councillor Kitcat says “AFAIK”. What could he possibly mean?

The Queens Park campaign is likely to be one of the liveliest in the city.  The three Labour candidates, media-savvy Tom French, local community activist-extraordinaire Chris Cooke, and the other one (the lovely Dan Chapman) are hard workers, part of the new breed of Labour activists who lack electoral experience (which is a good thing given the tired out hacks on the council radiate doom and defeat). 

But up against them is the Green Dream Team, sitting councillor Ben Duncan (who cares if he misses the occasional meeting – focus on your own campaign, Tom French.  Attacking a popular and hardworking councillor like Ben Duncan makes you look shallow).  Steph Powell, a youth worker, is energetic and personable, and offers an alternative to voters because it is rumoured she is not a gay man!  Again it is rumoured that Labour tried to recruit her as recently as November.  Geoffrey Bowden, the Sussex Square, matches Tom French in his use of new media.  He is a communications consultant, no less. 

Queens Park was the outstanding result last time for the Greens.  Ben Duncan, the very popular Rachel Fryer and the much respected Paul Steedman ousted Labour’s leadership on the Council, Simon Burgess, Ken Bodfish and Delia Forrester.  Ben beat Delia by a mere 15 votes, but it would be wrong to think that a small swing to Labour nationally will even things up and allow Labour back in.  Rachel, Paul and Ben have consolidated the Greens position and the Greens could be on the verge of being the natural party to represent Queens Park.

But one shouldn’t forget Chris Cooke who has been everywhere in Queens Park over the last few years, with a profile as high as that of an active councillor.  We could get a split decision here.  My prediction is that Queens Park will return 3 Greens or 2 Greens and one Labour councillor.  No wonder it is a lively battle, and no wonder it is getting dirty!

Doorstep Brighton 4: post office closures and saving the number 81 bus

Yesterday I bogged about how Labour candidates Jeane Lepper, Tom French and Melanie Davis almost had a good bit of publicity when photographed with Sally Gunnell in the Argus.

I forgot to mention a real coup by the Greens regarding the threat to close the Post Office in the London Road Co-op.  Defending post offices from closure is a big winner.  The Green councillors were pictured in the Argus last week launching their petition against the closure.  But a source tells me that, in spite of having a high profile launch, the Greens lack the presence in St Peters and North Laine to maintain a regular presence collecting signatures at the Co-op.  Surely there is an opening for Labour activists.

Labour candidates in East Brighton, Gill Mitchell, Warren Morgan, and Craig Turton are doing well in their campaign to protect the number 37 bus.  I heard a rumour that, every time he stood for election in Hanover, Labour veteran Brian Fitch would run a campaign to save the number 81, and every time he was successful.  Legend has it that the number 81 was never under threat.  I’m not sure whether the story is true.  The sad reality today is that you don’t have to make up stories of cuts.  They are all too real.

And now an unholy spat is developing between Labour candidates in Queen’s Park and their Tory and Green opponents.  Tom French is campaigning to save the …. number 81 bus!  The spirit of Brian Fitch lives on (as does Brian Fitch himself!).  Tom French has been criticised by his opponents threat.  Who knows what the truth is? 

Last night I read an interview with the entire Lib Dem group on the City Council, also known as councillor Paul Elgood.  Rumour has it that I not a great fan of the Lib Dems.  Truth be told, I like the Lib Dems a little less than root canal treatment.  This interview, which you can read in the Brighton Free Press, must be one of the shallowest interviews I have ever read.  It reminded me of the questioning by the BBC of the Prime Minister in the 1950’s which had questions like “Sir, would you like to share with the viewers some more of your successes at the conference?”.  Come on, Brighton Free Press, you can do better than that.

Doorstep Brighton 3: Is the Tory vote collapsing in Rottingdean Coastal?

Almost a good item in today’s Argus for three Labour candidates in three key marginal seats.  Pictured handing over a petition on school sports to Sally Gunnell are candidates councillor Jeane Lepper (Hollingdean and Stanmer), Tom French (Queen’s Park) and councillor Melanie Davis (Goldsmid).  Melanie gets a good quote but Jeane and Tom are not mentioned.  That’s why it was almost a good story.

Feisty Rachel Bates, the Sarah Palin of Brighton and Hove politics, says that I am wrong to suggest that she is merely a paper candidate. She writes: “It is true that I work for Mike Weatherley, MP for Hove and Portslade, but this certainly does not mean that I will be in any way neglecting Hollingdean & Stanmer. I have been putting all of my effort in to becoming a councillor in that ward.  I am extremely dedicated to fighting for what I believe is right for the people of Hollingdean & Stanmer. Myself and my fellow Conservative candidates are 100% dedicated to the ward. I have been actively campaigning there long before I was selected as a candidate.  The campaign has been going fantastically, and I certainly do believe that the Conservative message is hitting home in H&S. I for one believe that it is not a lost cause for the Conservatives and look forward to seeing three Conservative councillors in H&S on 5th May.”

Come on, Rachel, get serious.  There is as much chance of a Tory winning H&S as there is of the Tories losing Rottingdean Coastal.  And while on the subject of Rottingdean Central, Christopher Hawtree says that the Tory vote in Ovingdean “has collapsed” with an influx of residents from the Five Ways area of Brighton.  Even if 200 households have moved, and each has 2 voters, and even if all of them vote Green, and if each one has replaced a Tory, the the Tory majority is likely to drop from 2,200 to a mere 2,000.  There’s everything to play for in Rottingdean Central!

Luke Walter seems to have taken exception to me describing himself as the Labour candidate in Hollingdean and Stanmer.  Apologies, he is one of the Green candidates.

But the big news, and probably the most significant of the week so far, is the decision of councillor David Watkins in Brunswick and Adelaide to leave the Lib Dem group and to sit as an independent.  Councillor Paul Elgood, leader of the Lib Dem group on the Council, should experience little opposition from within his group since he is now the only member of his Lib Dem group. Having lost 50% of their members in one go, will the other 50% be lost at th elections? One can but live in hope.

George Osborne will not be blown off course by bad weather. God help us all.

Britain’s ‘recovery’ went into reverse today, a “stunning blow to the Government” according to the Evening Standard. Howard Archer of IHS Global Insight said: “This is a stunningly bad outcome”. Hetal Mehta of Daiwa Capital Markets Europe said: “This is an absolute disaster for the economy”.

George Osborne said: “There is no question of changing a fiscal plan that has established international credibility on the back of one very cold month. That would plunge Britain back into a financial crisis. We will not be blown off course by bad weather”.

Baldrick Osborne might well have said: “I have a cunning plan” or perhaps “Crisis? What crisis”.