Exploring the Green breakthrough in Preston Park and Labour’s successful defence

Councillor Warren Morgan has pointed out a basic error I made in a recent post when I talked of the election of Green councillor Amy Kennedy as a ‘breakthrough’ result. He asks “Why was Amy Kennedy’s result in Preston Park in 2007 ‘unexpected’? The Green’s had won a seat in 2003 with Richard Mallender, who I think then went off to be a councillor elsewhere.”

You are right, as usual, Warren, and I apologise for this error. However, I don’t agree with his next comment that “the unexpected thing at that point was that unlike in other wards previously where they had established a foothold, the Greens did not go on to win all three seats. In fact the other two Green candidates (including the then serving councillor Simon Williams who moved a la Sven Rufus) finished a good four to five hundred votes behind.”

My recollection was that the Greens, rightly at that time, felt that the prospects of winning more than one seat in that election were remote. They therefore concentrated their efforts on getting Green Amy elected. Warren points out that the two sitting Labour councillors, Juliet McCaffery and Kevin Allen had gained popularity over the school admissions debacle. That is no longer a live issue.

Allie Cannell points out that 4 years is a long time in electoral terms. Yes, Warren, the Greens success has largely been achieved at a time of an unpopular Labour government, but locally there’s the Caroline Effect which off-sets any reclaiming by Labour of lost ground. A line that Labour has spun in the past is a vote fornthe Greens could see a Tory elected. That line will no longer wash.

In fact, I have spoken to people who voted Labour at the general election because they believed the Labour line that a vote for Lucas would result in the election of Charlotte ‘Chuck’ Vere. When Caroline was elected, they felt cheated and several people have said to me that, even though they would normally vote Labour, this election they will be voting Green to make up for not having voted Green last time.

In Preston Park it is a fight between Labour and the Greens, and I believe that the Greens will make a gain here. Similarly, the Greens will also make a breakthrough in Hollingdean and Stanmer for this and other reasons.

Predicting Green gains in Preston Park and Hollingdean & Stanmer in May’s local elections

Yesterday Luke Walter made some really interesting observations about changing demographics in areas outside the town centre (see yesterday’s post).  He noted that Green supporters from the town centre wards are moving to more outlying areas which could result in electoral gains for the Greens in areas such as Hollingdean and Stanmer.  (For the record, Luke is standing in Hollingdean and Stanmer for the Greens). 

As you would expect, Labour activists have responded.  Dan Wilson, the thoughtful Labour candidate in Regency ward has written: “I don’t disagree with Luke’s view of how Brighton and Hove is changing. But I would note that his critique of change relies on Labour being in govt. I think a coalition at Westminster combined with a Tory council locally is a salient difference on the doorstep in 2011. It’s a precarious situation out there. Clear anti-Tory sentiment, I sense a lack of clarity of where the Liberal support will land, massive numbers of Green/Labour switchers. And who knows what they will do. Good canvassing for us lately but proving hard to crystallise the Labour vote as ever but it is so different from a year ago and the run up to the General Election. I am quite surprised the Greens aren’t doing more to protect their flank.”

My prediction is that the Green vote in Brighton Pavilion will harden, resulting in comfortable Green wins in St Peters and North Laine, Hanover and Elm Grove, and Regency.  I also think that the Greens will pick up at least one extra seat in Preston Park in addition to the one already held by Amy Kennedy.

Hollingdean and Stanmer is harder to predict, but in each election where a party has momentum unexpected results are achieved (as with Amy Kennedy in Preston Park last time). I suspect that H&S will be the ‘breakthrough ward’ for the Greens this time, defeating established Labour councillors.  I have previously said that ousting Labour’s Jeane Lepper is the big ask, and I doubt whether all the factors are there for this to happen.  She will survive because of Labour’s relative strengthening in the polls but more importantly (and this is why I single her out) her reputation in the ward which others underestimate. I think H&S result will go 2 Green and Jeane Lepper.

The Greens may well strengthen their position in Patcham and even Westdene, but I doubt whether they will run the sitting Tories even close.

So in Brighton Pavilion, my prediction is the Greens returning 12 councillors, the Tories 6 and Labour 2.

  • Hanover and Elm Grove: 3 Greens
  • Hollingean and Stanmer: 2 Greens and 1 Labour
  • Patcham: 3 Conservatives
  • Preston Park: 2 Greens and 1 Labour
  • Regency: 2 Greens
  • St Peters and North Laine: 3 Greens
  • Westdene: 3 Conservatives

In the next couple of days I will share my predictions for Hove and Brighton Kemptown (including a sensational prediction for Rottingdean Coastal!).

Doorstep Brighton 17: On annual elections, Mary Mears’ ‘fear of Unison’, East Brighton Tories fight back, and Green spread into Patcham and beyond

Until the creation of the unitary authority of Brighton and Hove, there were annual elections in Brighton, with a third of the Borough Council up for election each year and councillors elected to serve for a four year term. One year in four there were no Borough Council elections, but elections to the County Council.

For activists, it must have been hard work and it must have been costly to the parties. But at least it kept democracy alive. 

Several people have said that the Mary Mears budget is merely a delaying tactic, to avoid cuts before May’s elections. Alex Knutsen of Unison wrote to his members this week that”if even on Notice of Redundancy letter is sent to a member we will go straight to a full strike ballot”, that strike action “in the run-up to the local elections in May … scares the hell out of them (councillors).”  Annual elections would ensure that such a ‘delaying tactic’ could not happen then, by politicians of any party.

Annual elections can mean that there is too  much uncertainty, that it is difficult for difficult decisions to be made because all parties are constantly thinking of the electoral consequences of all decisions.

Back to this year’s elections, Peter Booth has responded robustly to my ‘critique’ of the East Brighton Conservative’s website. “Delighted to comment and not to shy away from criticism!
1. You have commented many times in your blog about the decline of Brighton Labour – not having an updated website between the GE and now rather suggests that you are correct.
2. My main comment was concerning Mr Morgan’s assertion that we have loads of money to throw at a website. We do not!
3. It may surprise you to learn that many of the ‘settled’ residents of East Brighton have expressed their concerns about Traveller Encampments!
4. Sorry for your personal attacks – and cannot do much about the smiles – maybe we are just miserable about the state the Country was left in by
5. And as for being nasty….pot and kettle come to mind!”

Nice response, but then (as has been mentioned before) I’m not a candidate, not even in Rottingdean Coastal to reassure Christopher Hawtree.  And on the subject of Mr Booth, ‘Knickers in a Knot’ chastises Mr Booth for his earlier reference to Warren Morgan as ‘Mr Morgan’. “Its Councilor Morgan to you Mr. Booth.”

New correspondent, Marina72, also has critical words for Mr Booth: “East Brighton Conservatives should know that there is no need for an apostrophe in Photos. First impressions count.” I take it that Marina72 won’t be casting her vote for Mr Booth. How very sad!

Probably the most interesting observation in the last week comes from Luke Walter, a Green candidate in Hollingdean and Stanmer. While allowing for his Green-tinted glasses, I think he is on to something when exploring demographics in the City, and how Green voters may be moving out of traditional Green seats and into outlying areas, thereby making them marginal.  This could be a decisive factor in May.  I reproduce Luke’s analysis in full:

“We have to look at how wards across Brighton and Hove have changed over the past decade, but, let’s take the wards in the Pavilion constituency, for example. First, it deserves pointing out, that Brighton has one of the highest graduate retention rates in the country. If staying on in Brighton, most young people are likely to rent somewhere (likely to be in a house in multiple occupation) near the centre of town or mainline station of which St Peters and North Laine, and Hanover and Elm Grove cover a vast swathe. Worth noting that SPNL is one of the safest Green council wards in the whole country and thus the highest number of Green voters. Equally, HEG is considered safe for the Greens. Over the years these folks will then travel out to other parts of the city, perhaps renting a flat with their partner in Fiveways or similar. Thus, another potential Green voter in Preston Park or Hollingdean and Stanmer. If, for instance, they wished to start a family, they may look to upgrade into bigger accommodation and may have saved enough over the years to put down a mortgage on a property in one of the ‘northern’ wards. This might mean a house in Hollingdean, or even in Patcham or Withdean. This drift, backed up by all-year-round work by Green representatives, has consolidated the Green vote and made a number of council wards winnable for the Greens in May 2011. In some of these new wards, from our sampling at the General Election, we already know there are enough Green voters to win in May.”

Fascinating.  What do you think?

Doorstep Brighton 16: The Nasty Party is alive and well and living in East Brighton

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Doorstep Brighton 15: Websites, Patcham, and denying Christopher Hawtree a famous victory in Rottingdean Coastal

There has been a great deal of interest in the new Labour Party website. And even Green activists have applauded its launch. Luke Walter, for example, said:  “A few kinks, but fair play. A big improvement to the last one.”  So, too, have a number of new readers (and now probably ex-readers) who were attracted to the last post having searched ‘lap-dancing club Brighton’.  Probably the same ex-readers who were no impressed with the picture of me dressed in nothing but a sheet!

Warren also answers some of the gaps in the new website: “Thanks for all the comments and for pointing out the glitches/omissions, all being corrected. …. Yes, Celia Barlow was selected to stand in Central Hove (her bio will be changed), and Brian Fitch in Hangleton & Knoll. Their experience – and that of Simon Battle and all 13 Labour councillors running for re-election – is balanced by the new talent we have in Queens Park, Regency, Goldsmid, Hanover, Wish, St Peters, Preston Park and elsewhere.”

Dr Faust criticises me for hypocrisy: “On the ‘Thumper principle’ you seem to be failing yourself with your rather snide comments about Brian Fitch and others. Your respondants have followed suit as well – but I think that’s OK. Say what you like about candidates, preferably let it be true, but if not someone will hopefully point out your error.”

Tom Matthews says that this is a fair point, points out that I can get away with making snide comments because “(s)he’s not running to be a councillor, or IS (s)he??”. Thank you, Tom, I’m a sensitive soul, finding criticism hard to cope with! As for standing for Council, I wont confirm or deny rumours that i might be standing as an Independent Green in Rottingdean Coastal inspite of accusations that I will split the anti-Mears vote, thereby denying Christopher Hawtree an historic victory.

But Dr Faust is wrong. I wasn’t being snipe about the People’s Brian. I said he was a legend and that he would save the No 5 bus to Hangleton. I couldn’t be fairer.

‘Andy’ points out that the new website seems to suggest that one of “Labour’s candidate for Patcham seems to also be standing in Brunswick. That’s a good start!”.

And talking of Patcham, Serenus Zeitblom said: “You can tell it’s getting close to election time in Patcham because we’ve just had a flyer through the door advertising Messrs Theobald, Theobald and Pidgeon’s surgery times … however in the seven years I’ve been living in the ward I don’t think I’ve seen any evidence of Labour activity ever.

But I’m not wholly convinced by the new Labour website. Smart and slick at first appearance, it appears to be full of slips and errors – almost as if the webmaster has been filling in a template. And here in Brighton where you’re never more than a few yards from a web developer you expect slick digital campaigns.”

Two points regarding Patcham, “Messrs Theobald, Theobald and Pidgeon” surely refers to councillor Geoffrey and councillor Carol Theobald” as well as councillor Pidgeon. And secondly, there has been practically no reports on the campaign in Patcham, not even a convincing opinion from the Peter Snow of Brighton politics, Christopher Hawtree, that with a swing of just 187%, Patcham will fall to the forces of the Greens.

Doorstep Brighton 14: Labour for Brighton and Hove – not an endorsement but the launch of an impressive new website

I am grateful to Warren Morgan for alerting me to Brighton and Hove Labour Party’s new website Labour for Brighton and Hove.  I am delighted to say how impressive it appears. It has some welcomed links, for example to the blogs for the campaigns in Hanover and Elm Grove and in Queens Park. Both are very readable websites and the candidates should be applauded for them.  (It has been noted that this blog is not listed under ‘Friends of Labour’.  Remember, I called for Labour votes in both Brighton Kemptown and Hove at the general election. I remain a friend of the Labour Party as well as a friend of the Green Party).

I was disappointed that Tracey Hill decided to blog about Caroline Lucas’s home. Tracey should be told that a basic rule of campaigning is not to stoop to the level of attacking your political opponents.  It suggests that you are sectarian and small minded, and is an important factor in helping me to decide how I will vote.  As Thumper (not John Prescott) in Bambi said: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all”.

Warren has pointed out that the website still has more features and content to come, but that the Party wanted it to go live now.  Of course websites do evolve as content and new features are added.  I am sure that this website will continue to improve.  However, I think that some changes need to be prioritised.  For example, the profile of Celia Barlow that appears in the ‘Candidates‘ section fails to mention 2 things. The first is where she is standing (I assume from reports that it is Central Hove), and secondly, in the very full write-up of her achievements, being elected to Parliament in 2005, being the first of the new intake to make her maiden speech, being a member of a Select Committee, being appointed as a Parliamentary Private Secretary, it fails to mention that she is no longer an MP. A slight, yet important, omission, I would suggest.

On page 2 of the ‘Candidates’ there is the happy, smiling face of Brian Fitch.  A legend returns, but the question is where?  His write up fails to mention where he is standing.  It does say that Brian “has a reputation”. He sure does.  On this occasion it qualifies it by saying “as a man who gets things done.”  And I was overjoyed to see he has campaigned on issues such as ….. bus services.  The main thrust of his campaign is “to save the No 5 to Hangleton which is under imminent threat of being scrapped” (I made that bit up.  The No 5 is not under threat but be assured Brian continues to save it).

And a small word of advice to Caroline Penn (see page 4 of ‘Candidates‘, when posing for election photos, try to avoid the appearance of being in a poll-dancing club.

I am pleased to see that Simon Battle is hoping to make a return to front-line politics. I have worked with this former councillor and admire his work, particularly in achieving the pedestrianisation of George Street.  (As an aside, I was appalled when David Milliband said that he was withdrawing from front-line politics after his defeat by Ed for the Labour Party leadership. Clearly David doesn’t think that being an MP is front-line.  I think candidates in local elections, one and all – even Lib Dems – are in the front-line. David is such a typically arrogant New Labourite believing it is his birthright to hold office and to be leader. I’m still so glad he lost).

All in all, congratulations to Labour for this new resource.  Do take the time to have a look at Labour for Brighton and Hove

Lord Blogger of Brighton – Support the Campaign for Elevation

There appears to be the prospect of the Greens being offered a place in the House of Lords. For many Greens it will prove to be a step too far. It is great that the Green Party has Caroline Lucas in the Commons, but does the Party really want to become so ‘establishment’ by accepting a seat in an unelected chamber?

Out of a sense of charity and concern for the well being of many Greens, I wish to offer the purists a way out of this ethical dilemma. I am willing to sell out what few principles I still retain and take, on behalf of the Greens, a seat in the House of Lords.

I have already put my name forward to Luke Walters and I am confident he will fight my corner. We have even discussed how I will be ‘fashioned’. I favour Lord Blogger of Brighton, while Luke suggests Lord Baps of Brighton Blog-o-sphere. I think that Lord Baps is a bit too down-market. I feel I sho-uld have, no, deserve, something more classy once I become superior to you plebs.

The other interesting point, who else should join me in the Lords? Should it be Lady Grizzly of Hollingdean? Lord Hawtree of Rottingdean Coastal and Every Port Beyond? Baron Buckwell of the Agent Estate? I personally think it should be Lady Kennedy of Tabbard Stassi. She could bake cup cakes for us to share on the Terrace.

Send in your suggestions for who should become one of the deserving rich, and your views on my soon-to-be Title.

Brighton and Hove City Council Budget: A ‘Desperate Budget’ or ‘Balanced and Fair’?

Last week the Conservatives on Brighton and Hove City Council unveiled their Budget.  Council Leader Mary Mears said she was delighted to present a budget that when “compared to other councils we feel this is balanced, fair and offers something to the whole city.”  She sais that  she and her coleagues “understand how much people are suffering at the moment so wanted to offer them some much needed relief.”

The Conservatives have announced a 1% cut in Council Tax, the first ever cut in the history of the City Council.  For a Council Tax D property, this amounts to a £13 cut for the year. The amount itself is negligible but it will, as I have said before, galvanised Tory activists, especially those on the Estate Agent wing in Goldsmid ward.  This Council Tax cut relies on the use of £10,000,000 of reserves.  That means that it is not sustainable unless it receives a massive increase in government funds or it makes that level of cuts in future years.

Green convenor, and the person most likely to replace Mary Mears should the Tories lose the elections in May, Bill Randall, said that he does not support the cut in Council Tax.  He said: “This Council is asking us to accept that it can cut £35 million and no one will suffer.  I am afraid I don’t buy that”.  There will, of course, be cuts, with adult social care and children’s services being expected to make the largest ‘savings’.

Labour leader Gill Mitchell described it as a “desperate budget”.  She pointed out that inflation rises of up to 5% have beem predicted and that that could have a severe impact on future budgets.  “It is a risky budget, making cuts in the wrong places and making risky assumptions.”

The budget will be decided at a full council meeting on March 3rd at Brighton Town Hall starting at 4.30pm.  It will be interesting to see if Labour and the Greens can co-operate on making amendments to the Tory budget and what alternate budget each will propose.

Doorstep Brighton 13: Ghosts, Spectres and the Grudges of Christopher Hawtree

Christopher Hawtree has raised the spectre of the ‘Simon Fanshawe Problem’, as he describes it. He asks what happens if there is a hung Council after the local elections. Would Simon become the King, or Queen, Maker?

‘Steampunk’ asks whether the “trepidation of Fanshawe’s ‘domineering approach’ imply that, given a close result in May, there will need to be some rough and tumble between the sheets (besides behind smoke filled doors) to determine who comes out on top? How much slack does Mr Big need exactly? I can’t speak for Simon Fanshawe but I can’t imagine Bill Randall will be thrilled at this prospect.”

If this was to happen there are many elder statesmen and women locally who could be an honest broker if talks were collapsing, although I think that Mary Mears and Bill Randall could work it out together. It wouldn’t be pretty, but they both have the best interest of Brighton at heart in spite of their obvious political differences.

The Ghost of Nobby Clarke suggests that Celia Barlow might be standing in Central Hove. Chris Hawtree says that this “must surely stem from her being seen by the Brighton Political Satellite’s cameras as she waited on Church Road to go into the selection meeting the other Saturday.”

Chris Hawtree suggests that “the LibDems are so desperate that Paul Elgood is trying to lead Argus readers into thinking that Brian Stone is already a Councillor. Beneath the letter in which he tries to get in on the great border/North Dakota debate, he puts ‘Couns Paul Elgood and Brian Stone’.” He says that the campaign in Brunswick and Adelaide is “getting dirty”, but ‘Andy’ says that “if politics is getting dirty it is only because Hawtree makes it so. His grudges are legendary – Sue John, Ken Bodfish, Mary Mears and most famously his duel with the clown David Smith.” Not so, says Hawtree: “I do not have grudges. Life is too short to waste on such things. Banter is another matter. Sue John and Ken Bodfish came to dinner, and it was a jolly time.”

Luke Walter says that the Green slate was completed in January, “probably the first and only party in the city to do so”. I have been quite critical of Labour for not having candidates in all seats in place months ago. I reserve the same judgement for the Greens. This election has been known about for ever. Candidates should have been identified months and months ago. Immediately after the general election the Greens should have selected all it’s candidates as well as having a recruitment drive on an unprecedented proportion. I realise everyone must have ben exhausted after getting Caroline elected, but a superhuman effort continues to be required if the Greens are to make the breakthrough elsewhere.

Warren Morgan says that “most Labour candidates in our target seats have been in place for over six months – many were selected before the General Election. What’s the point of the Greens selecting candidates but keeping them under wraps? Surely the whole point is for them to be out there campaigning and making themselves known? If I don’t know the Green candidates running in my ward, the public are hardly likely to have registered them.” Luke responds, jokingly, that the Greens “just like to keep the opposition in suspense.”

As for the Greens and the 2015 general election (assuming the Coalition lasts that long), I think that the Green candidates for Brighton Kemptown and for Hove should be selected by the autumn. There are one or two individual who would make outstanding candidates. I will return to this theme after May.

Rob Buckwell, leader of the Estate Agents Tendency of the Tory Party, and candidate in Goldsmid, says that I am “right to point out that bringing council tax down is important to us. However, you are wrong to say that I “cannot think beyond council tax cuts”. We have many other important issues which we are campaigning on. If you are lucky enough to live in Goldsmid, you will have received or soon receive our leaflet outling some of these. Of course, if you don’t…”

Showing more imagination in Goldsmid is councillor Alex Phillips who with St Peters and North Laine Green councillor Ian Davey organised a very effective demonstration on Saturday in The Drive against the ludicrous decision of the Tories to remove the cycle lane. If you haven’t watched the video, do so by clicking this link.

A word of apology to Ms Phillips. The title in a post yesterday referred to ‘Ice Cold is Alex’, a feeble play on words referring to that great movie ‘Ice Cold in Alex’, trying to reflect it was very cold on Saturday morning.  A resident of Goldsmid ward questioned me about this. I apologise to councillor Phillips who is anything but cold. She is one of the most able politicians locally, hard-working and who the Greens should consider for to be a candidate in a national election in the not too distant future. Perhaps I will return to this theme after May….

Labour’s strengths and weaknesses in Brighton and Hove

East Brighton councillor, Warren Morgan, has submitted a particularly robust and characteristically thoughtful response to my recent post about the state of Labour in Brighton and Hove.  I had, perhaps unfairly, reflected on councillor Morgan’s earlier revelation that Labour is yet to select for all seats for May’s local elections as a sign of Labour’s decline in the City. 

Warren has made some very sound points which deserves prominent coverage, and a serious response.

He says that it is “a hell of a leap to suggest Labour is ‘in decline’ because it hasn’t quite selected candidates for two ultra-safe Tory wards three months out from polling day… I don’t see any evidence that the Greens or the Tories have finalised their line-ups for May yet, indeed they may well change their candidates at the last minute as the Greens did in Preston Park in ’07.”

He continues: “I’ve no idea who the Greens or Lib Dems are putting up in East Brighton, and the Tories only selected for Queens Park a few weeks ago. Labour selected candidates well in advance compared to the previous two sets of local elections in wards where we are campaigning to win back seats lost last time.”

The point I was making in my earlier post was that the was a time when Labour would have had all it’s candidates in place many months before polling day, even in no hope seats. There was a time when hopefuls would seek to be selected in no hope seats in order to learn the ropes and hope to be seen to be an energetic and able candidate. And again, potential councillors learned the ropes, honed their debating skills and generally toughened up for several years before even being considered for the panel of candidates, let alone being selected to fight a winnable seat.

Now we have the situation where Labour struggles to find candidates, credible or otherwise, to stand in certain seats. To that extent, they are in decline.

Warren reflects on the state of the parties nationally: “Labour are 10% ahead of the Tories in the national polls, and have been winning council by-elections with 10 or 20% swings around the country.” Warren is right about that, but as he will know, Brighton bucks the national trend, at least in Brighton Pavilion.  He disagrees, “Labour locally are better resourced, have a good set of candidates who represent the entire spectrum of the city and who are campaigning from opposition locally and nationally for the first time in decades. That puts us in a strong position.”

We have three factors that will mean that Labour will not bounce back in the same way as it may do elsewhere. 

First, and most significantly, is the Caroline Effect. Labour shouted “wolf” too often last year, and many traditional Labour voters like me will vote for a Green candidate (in winnable seats) with much more confidence than before.

Second, and related to the first, is the anger that many Labour supporters continue to feel about Labour in government. Yes, many will be very, very angry about the Tory-led Coalition Government, and many will take advantage of the Green option in these locals.

And third, Labour has a real fight on with the Tories who, under Mary Mears leadership, will threaten Labour in its own heartlands, including Moulsecoomb and Bevendean, the two Portslade wards, and Hangleton and Knoll (although all of these currently have at least one Tory councillor).

Warren, unlike some of his less thoughtful Labour colleagues, recognises the strength of the Greens, and thinks that most voters don’t cast their votes in locals based on local issues: “No one suggests the Greens aren’t strong in many wards but their star is fading as Cameron’s cuts consolidate the Labour vote. The Tories seem hideously unpopular on the doorstep, and even their council tax stunts and incumbency (in the council & MPs offices) won’t help much in the face of a big national swing. Much as we all like to think that voters are immersed in the intricate nuances of local democracy, most cast their vote based on the national picture at the time.”

Warren’s analysis is credible, but one with which I disagree.  The Tories under Mary Mears aren’t as hated as he suggests. The “council tax stunts” as he calls them, may not have the impact on the doorstep as the Tories might hope, but it has galvanised Tory activists, especially the Estate Agent classes in Goldsmid, not to mention Momma Grizzly.

Warren’s personal strengths as a councillor and campaigner, for which I have great respect, means he sees Labour in the rest of the City as if it reflected East Brighton.  I am sorry to say, and I mean this, it is not the case.  If Labour had more Warren Morgan’s in it’s ranks it would be far better placed to challenge effectively in May.  And because of this, I stand by my view that Labour’s decline will continue.