What prospects are there for a Green/Labour coalition?

Mary Mears is saying to anyone who is willing to listen that she wishes Labour and the Greens well in their soon to be announced coalition. She hints that a deal has already been reached between Gill Mitchell (Leader of the Labour Group) and Bill Randall (Convenor of the Greens).

To be or not to be …. a coalition, that is, is one of the most intriguing questions in local politics. I am sure that councillor Mears might be just a tad disingenuous in her statements. “Vote Labour, get Green; vote Green, get Labour” she might as well be saying. She knows what a wind-up this is for Labour and Green activists alike. Naughty Mary.

But leaving Green and Labour activists to one side for a moment, the Lovely Dani has been pondering the prospects post May 5th: “I hope a Labour/Green coalition (or some kind of agreement) will be achievable too. I am intrigued to see how this pans out. A Green-led council in Brighton & Hove could be a rallying point for the anti-cuts movement across the country, if councillors are prepared to stick to their principles. Or it could be a disaster (see the tragic outcome of Green participation in a coalition government at national level in Ireland).”

But Dani, you have already named the elephant in the room that will have Warren Morgan spluttering over his Sugar Puffs – that there will be a Green-led council. Warren and his colleagues are adamant that Labour is on the cusp of a great victory, and that the Greens are in decline. What hope is there of a coalition should Labour fail in its recovery? Will they continue with the Big Sulk that has characterised its response to the last locals and the 2010 defeats?

Warren shows the hostility towards the Greens by rubbishing that Party’s commitment to the return of the Committee system within Brighton and Hove City Council: “I’m afraid this is another Green manifesto pledge which sounds good but which is alreadty in place and which they have no way of implementing independently.

Warren goes on: “Actually, holding a coalition council together under the committee system would in practice be harder, as the Greens would need to whip their councillors to vote with their administration in every committee and in council. Currently they allow their members a free vote on every issue. If an administration can’t carry its policies through committee and at council it will be at risk of division and of falling at every stage.”

Dani, with her characteristically optimistic outlook, responded: “It’s good to know this is an ambition the Labour group shares. I think a formal coalition between Greens and Labour will be difficult to hold together under any circumstances. That’s why I think a less rigid set of agreements on particular issues and open debate in committees might have a better chance of working in practice.

“With a leader & cabinet system, there’s going to have to be a divvying up of cabinet seats between two parties and a more sustained level of joint working.

Craig Turton responds to Dani’s comment that “a formal coalition between Greens and Labour will be difficult to hold together under any circumstances.” he writes: “Who knows? I was the only member of the Labour Group after the elections 4 years ago who proposed and voted for a coalition with the Greens. Would I do it again?” This is where the deepening divisions between Labour ane the Greens are revealed: “After 4 years of watching some of the Greens’ antics, I’m not so sure. Labour and Greens have far more in common than some in both Partys pretend in public. I have huge respect for some individual Greens, particularly Amy (Kennedy) and Bill (Randall) but holding a coalition together requires compromise, discipline, flexibility and honesty. Should the election reveal the Council is in No Overall Control, then both Labour and Greens need to reflect on these qualities which will be required in order to work together for the common purpose of serving the people of our City.”

These are wise words, but the Greens approach to whipping might be a critical factor in undermining a coalition, an approach explained by the Green’s Luke Walter “Warren knows full well that Green councillors come to a consensus decision, rather than being told how to vote by whips (and sometimes the Westminister Labour front bench or those sitting in Labour HQ).”

So what do I think? Given that I think that the Greens will end up with between 20 and 22 seats, and that Labour will end up with around 13 seats (win some, lose some), leaving around 21 Tories, some sort of compromise will be needed.

Some Greens are more than willing to work with Labour, but there are a few that might be too purist, perhaps not mature enough (in attitude not years) to understand that to achieve things in politics you sometimes have to compromise.

Within Labour, much depends on who will survive the cull of councillors. There are a couple who find it hard to remain civil even to colleagues in their own party, while others (as I have said previously) retain a pathological obsession with the Evil Princess and All Her Works, including her Green councillors. On the whole, it is Labour councillors who need to change most – accept that they will have been rejected in three elections in a row and that there is a new political order in town. That, in my mind, is the single greatest obstacle to a successful Green-led/Labour coalition.

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14 Responses

  1. BPB agree with your prediction on the seats, but i predict from the other side that the “Comedy Coalition” won’t last long after May, infact it i forsee a meltdown similar to the Militant Tendency days, expect a few characters of the Cllr Richard Stanton ilk to come out of the closet and the tories to take back control at the next Unitary elections and maybe Caroline “Servalan” Lucas to lose her seat..you heard it here first..you’ve seen the Banksy art ‘Laugh now but one day we’ll be in charge’

  2. As a Green member (and I feel sure that Blake himself would have been a lifelong Green, unlike Wordsworth who followed the well-worn path from youthful radicalism to later reactionary conservatism), I hope we will end up with a Green-led administration of some description. And as BPB has suggested previously, a Green majority is not outside the realms of possibility. After all, the Greens doubled their numbers at the last council election, and the Lucas effect can only be positive.

    However, in the more likely event of a Green-Red coalition, or perhaps Labour providing support on a confidence and supply basis, Labour must take their lessons from the recent experience of the German Social Democrats in the large southern German state of Baden-Wuerttemburg. Faced with their worst-ever result in the state, they have been only too happy to become junior partners in a Green-led administration. As in Brighton, the Conservatives previously controlled the state. There is one major difference though: in Baden-W the Conservatives had been in power for over 50 years. In Brighton+H, Labour have had a much more recent taste of power, so a junior role would be a much more bitter pill to swallow.

    Some advice from Blake for the parties to mull over on 6 May: ‘Without contraries is no progression’ or ‘Opposition is true friendship’. Take your pick.

  3. I think the recent YouTube seg of Caroline Lucas doing a 2 minute serious political appeal at a Comedy Club (could be the Komedia) and the look of embarrassment and discomfort on the faces of the young audience, will lose Green votes. There was a feeling of excruciating desperation about this clip.

    Can’t link the clip here, but it’s easy to find if you google YouTube/Caroline Lucas.

      • Firstly I am not rich but what’s unfunny is Caroline and the likes thinking you can spend,spend,spend and tax the privalidged whilst also assuming men are basically good and they’re not, the rich for One they’ll just go abroad to live and two if you goto the money well too many times eventually it ends up dry, it’s the class war style of thinking and has never worked and will fail after May 6th, expect them to Abolish tuition fees for Brighton College and introduce faith schools for atheists!. In Carolines perfect world entrepreneurship would be impossible and the economy would stagnate.

  4. There’s so much that is wrong with this post…

    Firstly, I *hate* Sugar Puffs.

    Secondly, the Greens and Labour and the Tories already voted to change back to the committee system. It’s already policy so a manifesto pledge by any party to change suggests the others don’t agree, they do, but the reality is the Tory govt won’t let us change until the next election in 2015. That’s not hostility to the Greens, it’s a fact.

    Thirdly, Luke Walter is completely wrong, the Labour Group are not instructed how to vote by Labour HQ or the front bench. I’m the Whip so I should know. We come to a majority decision and then unite around it when it comes to a vote at council, unlike the Greens who come to a consensus and then often vote different ways.

    I do agree with this part though:
    “Some Greens are more than willing to work with Labour, but there are a few that might be too purist, perhaps not mature enough (in attitude not years) to understand that to achieve things in politics you sometimes have to compromise.” This will be harder for the Greens if BPB is wrong and it is Labour who are the larger group.

  5. Labour’s arrogance locally will make any coaition unworkable! The people of Brighton and Hove rejected them in 2007, rejected them again in 2010 and, I am quite sure, will reject them again in 2011.

    They have nothing positive to offer the City.

    If the Green manifesto is anything to go by though heaven help us (and them) if they are in any position of power come May…uncosted wish lists are notoriously hard to deliver on.

    Therefore, in the spirit of consensus building, the only thing I am sure we can all agree on is that everyone should go out and vote Conservative on May 5.

    • What? And lead Brighton and Hove into a city of misery because ideological cuts?

      Just stop and think of what the next four years ahead would be like if we ended-up with a Tory-led council – one which ‘promises to reduce council tax’…. A distinct lack of provision for our city’s children and youth, a crushed NHS, a dwindling police force and fire service, no libraries, schools turning into academies (ugh), a reduced bus timetable, poverty for the most needy (especially the elderly), and volunteers taking over from paid jobs.

      I’m sure we can all agree that Tory is certainly NOT the way forward. I’d rather pay a higher amount of council tax and keep services because personally, I’d prefer not to return back to Victorian Britain.

  6. My advice to any party would be to loose this election. The real elephant in the room is the true state of the Council’s finances. I suspect no opposition councillors and few conservatives outside the cabinet realise just how dire it really is. After May there will substantial compulsory redundancies and cuts to services whoever wins. Come on BPB and The Argus lets have some real investigative journalism

    • I suggested a while back that this may be good election to lose. The best scenario for three parties may well be to avoid winning, but not lose too badly. The next four years will be bleak for whoever has to implement the cuts – although at least with the Tories they believe in them and will do it with some conviction.

      • Disagree very much with the final point, and what an odd point of view for a Labourite! I’d rather have someone who has priorities I broadly share cutting the cake, regardless of what size the cake is.

        There are some interesting stories doing the rounds about the present council’s alleged preference for spending public money on particular projects in wards that it holds. Again, some investigative work would be good.

  7. Thanks for the link Steampunk. You’re obviously not a Green, as you would not want to publicise
    this any more than necessary.

    I can see why Mike Weatherley & Simon Kirby are keeping away from the fray!

    • That wasn’t bad – it wasn’t meant to be funny. It might not be what I would advise in terms of an election broadcast but she is right, that the cuts to come are no laughing matter. Jack Cade might be right in saying this is not the election to win. So perhaps Caroline (I say ‘Caroline’ to give the impression I know her personally) has got it just right.

      • It is OK as a party political and gets its message over well, but excruitiatingly smug. The Green Party as the only one who cares, has principles, new politics etc. The thought that Caroline didn’t step on the odd toe or two to reach where she has is laughable, although I’m sure she didn’t sell her grandmother as she says others would. That is not a criticism, just reality. Politics can be a dirty business, requires compromise, shifting opinions , responding to circumstances, is far harder than this would suggest. If you reach out beyond your core issue, the environment, and develop a total political strategy then you have to be prepared to act as a politician, and be upfront about the accommodations you have to make.

        I thought the Green Party had shown some signs of this recently with their acceptance of the need for cuts, more control on spending than Labour, etc, but this broadcast suggests there is some simple solution, which only the Green Party can provide.

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