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.

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12 Responses

  1. How Labour fares we shall see, but it is surely an implausible rumour mentioned by nobbyclarke that Celia Barlow is standing. 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.

    Meanwhile, 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”.

    It’s getting really dirty in Brunswick.

    http://www.theargus.co.uk/yourargus/letters/8863394.Hove_identity/

  2. Elgood now claims that he is a typographical error.

    What an inspiration that would have been for the late Saul Steinberg.

  3. Of course the Argus never makes typographical errors, or factual mistakes, and its coverage of local politics is always beyond reproach.

    Getting dirty in Brunswick? Hardly Chicago stuff, is it?

    And meanwhile in Central Hove, the sitting Tories laugh.

  4. Whether it is a question mark hanging over Elgood or flat out to a full stop, we shall see… Meanwhile, as chance has it, I have just found a neat typographical error in Peter Mandelson’s rather boring memoirs.

    “In the wake of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in April 1986, environmental issues would play a major role, leading to predictions that the Green Party might have a singificant effect on the outcome. Many in Labour were arguing for us to adopt a raft of new environmental policies, looking to the
    possibility of a longer-term ‘red-green’ alliance against the Tories if the Greens’ impact continued to grow.”

    I like “singificant”, which will surely be the adjective for which everybody except Elgood reaches when… Phelim Mac Cafferty takes to the stage of the Brunswick on March 19th.

    It is interesting that, back then, there was such a mood in the air.

    However, Mandelson concludes that chunk by writing, “The Greens took about 15 per cent of the vote, though the first-past-the-post system meant they got no seats.”

    Well, that’s changed, a bit.

    However, if the AV system starts next time, rather than at the end of the decade, then Hove could be all the more winnable. The current vote would have brought in second choice… and that could well have been Green. Tho’ I suspect that Hove people would like a Green MP per se.

  5. 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.

    • 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.

  6. Thanks for the comments in the post, I still think there is a degree of wishful thinking in believing Labour has struggled to find candidates, has selected late and no longer has campaigning strength.

    My ward is by no means the best resourced or most active. I wish it was. Wards like Queens Park and Goldsmid are much stronger. Most wards in Pavilion have more members/activists.

    There was competition for all seats and many more credible candidates have come forward in both winnable and more challenging seats. Many will run again in 2015 having learned the ropes. There will be some surprises when our list is published on our new website, probably later this week. A fundraising event this week with Ken Livingstone drew well over 100 people and raised a considerable sum for campaigning.

    And I have to challenge the idea that for all their campaigning skills and activists drawn in from across the country to focus on one seat, the Greens ran away with it in Pavilion. They made good use of the student vote. At what was a 25 year low point for Labour last May, the margin of victory for Caroline Lucas was not huge, and the votes across the city were
    Con – 46,786 (32.8%)
    Lab – 46,301 (32.3%)
    LD – 26,090 (18.1%)
    Green – 21,136 (14%)
    It was Labour which suffered from first past the post, while the Greens benefited enormously.

    If I was meeting Labour voters – or former Labour voters – complaining about Iraq, ID cards, Gordon Brown or any number of other issues I was hearing about on the doorstep 18 months ago I would be worried. I’m not.

    Some of the shine has come off the “Caroline effect”, with grumbles about casework and being on tv more than she’s in the constituency – perhaps unfair, but once elected all politicians come under more fire than when running. The world has not changed because Pavilion has a Green MP.
    Some people vote Green because they are Green voters, fine and all respect to them. Others voted Green as a protest against the Labour government, fine, but events have moved on.

    Labour were polling in the high 20s to low 30s in April 2007, but are now firmly in the low to mid 40s with a sizeable chunk of Lib Dem support having switched across. Yes, Brighton may be different because of the Greens, but not that different.

    • There is of course some interest in this coment but, yet again, Labour cites the votes for three constituencies as one. No doubt this will be their desperate line on leaflets.

      Even so, let us look at the figures as presented by Cllr Morgan: add together the LibDem vote and the Green one, and the total is greater than Labour’s or the Tories’.

      So, in fact, Cllr Morgan’s figures suggest that there could be three Green MPs next time.

      And I’d say that it makes sense to build out from one seat rather than try here and there across the country.

      • Apart from the fringe areas of the three constituencies that are not part of the City Council, what is so wrong about citing number of actual votes cast in the general election? Hardly ‘desparate’ – just a fact.

        The fanciful maths being employed here could lead you to the conclusion that Labour, Conservative, Green or the Lib Dems could win every seat next time – so ultimately pointless.

  7. The ‘desperate’ line of citing the votes across all three B&H seats has been employed extensively by the Greens – using the 2009 Euro result, which happened to put them in first place.

    Conclusion: all histograms on campaign leaflets are bollocks.

  8. What sort of graph will Celia Barlow be putting on her leaflet now that she is announced as standing for Labour in Central Hove?

    Will Labour rise from fourth place?

  9. These figures include only votes cast in the city, not those cast in the Lewes district council parts of Brighton Kemptown (East Saltdean, Telscombe, Peacehaven etc.).

    How people voted at last years GE is not necessarily a guide to how they will vote in locals now we have a Con/LD coalition in Westminster rather than a Lab govt, but it is better than the Greens using the 2009 Europeans which had such a low turnout they can’t be a guide to anything.

    Christopher, I think it’s a bit of a stretch to suggest that ALL of the Lib Dem voters are going to the Greens and will do at the next GE… Most I’ve spoken to are coming to Labour, staying where they are or are undecided.

    I would suspect the Tories – having planned to protect every sitting Tory MP from the cull of 50 seats – will look at getting the Boundary Commission to split the city in two, dropping some or all of the eastern section in Lewes DC area, abolishing Pavilion as a seat and hoping there are enough Tory votes in Brighton West & Hove and Brighton East & Kemp Town to hang on in 2015.

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