Labour is showing signs of life in Brighton but will still be the big losers in May

I have been delighted by the debate recent posts have provoked.  Clearly the local elections have begun to catch the imagination of activists.  This is understandable since interesting results are likely in individual wards and for the City Council as a whole.  But I have to say some predictions are well off the mark.

For example, Christopher Hawtree deserves an award for Hopeless Romantic of the Year in thinking he has a chance of unseating Mary Mears in Rottingdean.  Hell will freeze over before the Tories lose Rottingdean, and Mary is well respected amongst many voters.  I know that is hard for Labour and Green activists to swallow, but it is the reality.  She has not been guilty of the arrogance that epitomised the defeated Labour leaders last time out.   

Allie Cannell says that the Tories should not be complacent.  They haven’t been which is why they will do reasonably well in May.  They will lose seats and control of the Council.  While councillor Mears and her colleagues will be making some unpopular decisions in the budget, she has ensured that her core support is in place and the Tories will retain all their seats in their safe wards, and have a very good chance of beating Labour in its heartland of Moulsecoomb and Bevendean.

The keen fight between Labour and the Greens shows no sign of cooling.  I have called on both parties to focus on the Tories when they seem to regard each other as the real enemy.  However, when it comes to the election itself, I disagree with Steampunk who questions why Dan Wilson and Tom French are standing against the Greens in Regency and Queen’s Park wards respectively.  Elections are elections and each party must be free to field candidates against each other.  In spite of Dan’s regular criticism of my blog, I am an admirer of him, as well as of  Tom French.  I am sorry that they are standing in Regency and Queen’s Park, not because they are standing against the Greens, but because neither are likely to be elected.  I would have preferred to see both these very able activists to stand where they will be elected.  Both have an outside chance of being elected, but the smart money is on the Greens in both wards.

Finally, AJM predicts the Greens will lose Queen’s Park, Preston Park, Hollingdean and Stanmer, and Goldsmid. These are four of the most interesting wards, it has to be said, but to point to the Green’s performance in Oldham and Saddleworth is not relevant.  Brighton (and Hove) is not Oldham.  Caroline Lucas’s election continues the momentum, the Big Mo, for the Greens locally.  The mobilisation last weekend shows the Greens still have it.  I am still of the view that the Greens will do best in May, but will not form a majority.  Labour is showing signs of life, but the question remains whether it can mobilise sufficient numbers and offer a credible vision for the City.  They might do better than I have previously predicted, but they will still be the big losers in May.

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10 Responses

  1. Hi,

    Thanks for the blog – it’s good to see someone take an interest in the nuts and bolts of local politics in Brighton & Hove.

    My feeling is that you underestimate the impact the national position will have on the local election. Most voters troop into that polling booth and see the party names on the slip and vote accordingly. You have rightly said there is a small element of personal vote that will go with some of the stalwarts, but most names on the ballot paper are fairly alien to a lot of people – you would have to read the Argus pretty carefully or work for the council, to be able to name more than 3 or 4 of the Cabinet Members. A great many people think John Barradel is the leader of the council and don’t actually distinguish between the members and the officers – let alone know what the individual councillors have achieved or promises they have broken. This is why the national picture is more important. This is why I think you might see more of a flight from Green to Labour than you are giving credit for.

    • Brighton voters surely had their eye on the national stage when they elected the country’s first ever Green MP last year! There is a unique political climate here.

      Also, Caroline Lucas’s personal qualities not withstanding, one of the reasons we won that election was the fact that we could point to previous local and European results in the city as an indicator of our momentum. In the seats we already hold our share of the vote has increased at every election (57% in St Peter’s and North Laine last July) because our councillors have good reputations, so there’s no reason why voters are suddenly going to abandon the Greens.

      The national position is one of opposition to the coalition, and antagonism to the Lib Dems in particular, and if Labour are doing better in the national polls it’s just that they are the default opposition in the rest of the country. Brighton & Hove voters have better options.

      • I might be wrong – but I don’t think your comment about always increasing your share of the vote applies to Preston Park last time round. I’m fairly sure that the second and third Green candidates were further away from the two successful Labour ones than they had been before.

      • Just to be slightly sad and reply to my own comment below: In 2003 the 3 Green candidates in Preston Park polled 4755 votes, and the 3 Labour candidates polled 4622. In 2007, the 3 Green candidates polled 3845, and the 3 Labour candidates polled 4428.

  2. You can only really know if you put in the effort to find out voters opinions on the doorstep, something we’ve been doing non-stop for almost three years in some of the ‘northern’ wards.

    In H&S, many voters were deprived of the opportunity to vote Green after Labour ran a sustained campaign of telling voters ‘it’s us (Labour) or the Tories.’ This strategy at the General Election has now backfired and has further alienated progressive voters.

    We’ve even started to see Tory voters drift to the Greens due to the ‘Caroline effect.’

    One cannot make a reasoned guess about a party’s chances unless they go out and knock on doors.

  3. Interesting, as I’m an H&S resident myself. I’m seeing the opposite – I know of at least 2 sets of local friends who voted Green at the GE for the first time, being disillusioned with the Lab govt. but will now be shifting back as the true horror of the Tories is beginning to tell. In the face of the Tory storm people seem to be heading back to the ‘safe port’ of Labour.

    • To base any predictions on what a couple of sets of friends say is not statistically sound. Pub talk.

      • True, of course I wouldn’t pretend its a scientific survey. It’s just I think that, and I’m aware I’m in danger of contradicting myself here, the move to Green at the GE will not necessarily be replicated at the local level. I see no reason why the ‘Caroline effect’ (though God knows what she has actually affected) should have an impact. The world has changed since May 2010. The reality of the tories, combined with Labout being out of power and now two leaders on from Blair, make it okay to vote Labour again for a lot of people who were dissaffected by some of the more unpleasant New Labour elements.

  4. I have to completely disagree with HP. (I would though i am a Green)

    I’ve been out canvassing twice in H&S and both times several people have said to me they backed the wrong horse at the general election and so would be more likely to vote Green this time.

    I think the Caroline effect as BPB says in his next post is that its breaks the idea that voting Green is a wasted vote. And from all the publicity we got over her getting elected hopefully most people in all the Brighton and Hove wards now know about the Greens.

    Thats the meaning I get from the Caroline affect means anyway. But if you are asking what has she actually done, then thats a whole other question and i could go on writting pages about that so i’m not going to answer that one.

  5. Just to clarify, I’m not and never have been a Member of the Labour party, though of a general ‘Labourish’ persuasion. Indeed, I voted Lib Dem in 2001 and Green in 2005, so this is not a Labour attack on the Greens. When I question the Caroline Lucas effect I’m not questioning her hard work or dedication (she writes very nice letters back to 38 degrees lobbying e-mails). What I mean by her not affecting anything is that she shows up at parliament every day and effectively p*sses in the wind as she sits in a group of one, just 325 seats short of being able to do anything. Given the responses to her blog on the Guardian today I don’t see that changing anytime soon (again, I know that’s not a scientific sample, but it shows the virtiol out there aimed at the greens in middle england). Also, please don’t point to Tesco on Lewes Road going away as being something she achieved as her coming out and claiming that lost her a lot of respect in my eyes.

    Back to the local level, and the reason why I wanted to make clear I’m not another Labour sniper having a go at the Greens, is that for me the one show in town is toppling the Eye of Sauron and getting Mary Mears out of office as the city cannot take anymore stagnation. The Tory core is going to hold up okay but there are enough seats to be taken off them to get a more progressive group into power. If the Greens and Labour cannot work together to achieve this then all voters of a leftish pursuasion will have been sold short by both parties.

    Back to my original point, I feel that the national picture allows for people to come back to a less toxic Labour brand (even if its a pretty ineffectual Labour brand at the moment), but perhaps we’ll see. Out of interest, what % do people think the May election will be local issues and what % national? I’m thinking 85% national, 15% local.

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