I’m hoping that the Greens have chosen their new Brighton and Hove Cabinet wisely

The new Green Cabinet in Brighton and Hove contained a number of surprises – the number of newly elected councillors who have Cabinet positions. Of course, with so many new councillors, and just nine re-elected ones, at least one newly elected Green member had to end up in the Cabinet of ten.

But the appointment of so many new councillors creates extra responsibility and increased demands on those without prior Council experience. Some, like the Sussex Square, Geoffrey Bowden, has taken to his new role like a duck to water. His prior experience in a government quango will have helped. Others, though, are having to make the adjustment to being an elected councillor, becoming a Cabinet member and learning a new brief, all at the same time. Most newly elected councillors, no matter how lowly they are in the pecking order, especially in an authority like Brighton and Hove, are overwhelmed by the demands placed one them. To become a Cabinet holder is a huge ask.

Those Green councillors who have taken on Cabinet experience have not been appointed based on experience or competence by the Leader of the Council. No, they have been elected into each position by the entire Group. While that may be good for democracy within the Group and the Green Party, it could have resulted in appointment being made that might not otherwise have been made, with others, currently more experienced and possible more able, remaining on the back benches. I am not thinking of any particular Cabinet member. But for the well being of Brighton and Hove, I hope the Greens have got ALL appointments right. There is no time to learn the job on the go. The City can’t afford mistakes.

I anticipate that there will be one, if not two, resignations from the Cabinet within the first year as individuals realise what the brief entails and what time commitment is required. Whatever you may think of the last two administrations, individuals like Mary Mears, Maria Caulfield and Ayas Fallon-Khan (all Tories), and Simon Burgess and Sue John (Labour) worked every hour of the day and night fulfilling the demands of their portfolios. They may not always have got it right but nobody should negate their commitment and service to the City. I hope in a years time I can say the same thing for the ten Green Cabinet members who will need to make huge personal sacrifices while coming under close scrutiny and, in all likelihood, gleeful criticism. I wish each and everyone the best of luck. The City needs you to be successful.

If you can’t say somethin’ nice about Caroline Lucas, don’t say nothin’ at all

Craig Turton asks: “Why oh why does BPB keep on banging on about some mythical obsession s/he thinks Labour has with the ‘Evil Princess and All Her Works’?” Well, Craig, spending time with Labour activists during and since the election, they seem to have two obsessions: one with Caroline, the other with the newly minority Green Council.

Labour activists find it almost impossible to have a rational conversation about Caroline Lucas. Take someone at random …. how about ….. Craig Turton. He writes: “The problem with Saint Caroline (BTW I first heard that nickname from a Green during the plot to throw over Keith Taylor) is that being in a minority of one with in essence the status of an independent MP representing the Brighton Pavilion Allotments and Residents Association, means that her ability in Parliament to influence government and its agencies to act as a catalyst in facilitating change for the City is far more limited than that of an MP representing the DUP or Plaid Cymru for example.”

Most people wouldn’t agree with Craig. Allie Cannell predictably, as a Green, writes: “Caroline Lucas does work with other people in parliament?!?!? Plaid Cymru and the SNP give the Greens lots of help in Westminster. She does propose, amend and oppose legislation. How much difference would one more Labour or Tory MP out of hundreds make? As we said over and over again during the general election campaign. I don’t understand your argument……”

I agree with Allie. But then Craig would say: “of course you would”. But Allie makes a good point. Caroline Lucas is one reason why the Greens did so well in the local elections. In fact, every time I hear a Labour activist rubbish Caroline Lucas, it drives me further away from the only party I have ever been a member of, and one which I think about rejoining from time to time. But it is the hostil attitude of Labour activists that is the primary reason for not doing so.

I would suggest Labour activists should spend the next six months following the Thumper Principle (that’s Thumper from Bambi who said “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all”).

In fact, I would challenge Craig, Warren, Harris and any other Labour activist who wishes to take up the challenge – post one genuine positive comment about Caroline Lucas. Not a back-handed compliment, something genuine. I won’t hold my breath ….

Some of my favourite things about politics in Brighton and Hove

The Greens: Thank goodness we live in a city that has the variety of politics and an openness to new ideas that allows a party like the Greens to thrive and enjoy electoral success. As a tribal Labour loyalist who voted Labour in May, I can’t imagine how very boring politics would be if we were still locked in a two-party dog fight, year in, year out. The Greens are forcing Labour and the Tories to rethink their strategy and policies, and (who knows when) both the old parties may just one day change for the better!

Warren Morgan: Warren will hate to be included in this list but he represents the fighting spirit that remains in parts of the local Labour Party. I can rely on Warren to spill his Sugar Puffs each time I post my latest take on the Greens. For him, it is the Evil Princess and All Her Works (i.e. Caroline Lucas) that personifies everything that is wrong with Brighton politics. Without the likes of Warren, Labour’s decline would be almost terminal.

The Young Tories: Rob Buckwell, Michael Ireland, Mike MacFarlane, George Dore, Kerry Underhill, Robert Nemeth and the incomparable Momma Grizzly, Rachael Bates. The Tory Party needs ‘modernising’ but not in the Blair/Cameron sense (which are no more than a cover for the worst traditions of paternalistic old-fashion politics). This new breed of young Tories will help the Tories break with their past and will challenge Blue Labour, sometimes from the left. Momma Grizzly is an enigma: a right wing, anti-monarchist, pro-Palin, capitalist. Other than her anti-monarchist tendencies, she represents much of what I oppose, but at least she has a sense of humour and passion, but that could make her all the more dangerous.

Community Gardeners: These groups represent the free spirit of campaigning that has long existed in Brightn and Hove. They are bottom up campaigners that genuinely ‘shape place’ to use the jargon of the City Council. Co-operative and communal, they bring forward a model of how things can improve, without consultants and council officers.

Christopher Hawtree: Chris is the latest in a long line of characters that have graced and enriched the political scene in Brighton and Hove over many years: Dennis Hobden, Ruth Larkin, Doreen Radford (the lady who it is said wore a new hat at every Council meeting), Richard Stanton, Sheila Hall, etc. Christopher’s election sent greater shockwaves around senior officers of the Council more than any other result on the night. It is said his election sent shockwaves around the Green Party as well!

The Blogosphere and Twiteratti: My life was sad, lacking in focus, days passing into weeks and weeks into years. I am the shy, retiring type. But then I discovered a whole new world and made loads of new friends: The Ghost, Zombie, Doris Day (she never returns my calls), Baron Pepperpot, Momma Grizzly, Rosa’s Lovely Daughter, Dr Faust, etc. Social media has enriched the political world locally, although no party has yet worked out how to make the most of it. When one party fully utilises Twitter, they can expect to reap electoral success.

The future: I don’t mean the young Tories (see above) or even the impressive young activists in Labour (Harris Fitch, Clare Calder, etc.) or in the Greens (Luke Walter, Allie Cannell, Alex Phillips, etc.) but those who active in their early and mid teens, such as Pearl Ahrens. With committed young activists like her, we can take courage for the future health of the political process.

The seven Brightonians who I wish were councillors

This list of the seven people who I wish were councillors does not imply any criticism of the current 54 who hold elected office locally. In alphabetical order:

Dani Ahrens is one of the most principled and consistent campaigners in the City. Dani was part of the early campaign against Section 28, invading the Council Chamber and holding a banner promoting lesbian and gay equality. The then mayor, Joe Townsend, wisely allowed the meeting to proceed while Dani’s protest continued. She continues to provide a conscience for the left and she is also one of the nicest people I know. An official return to the Council Chamber would bring the highest level integrity to the Council.

Roy Brown of Bardsleys Fish and Chip Shop in Baker Street can put the world to rights and fry battered cod and chips in the space of fifteen minutes. Though he is shy and retiring, he has an opinion on every matter and doesn’t care who he might offend in criticising the local authority and councillors themselves. His commitment to the environment is genuine although his ‘No Cod Wednesday’ lasted all of five minutes. Under Roy’s leadership London Road would thrive once against.

Jean Calder is the only former councillor on this list. Jean is a tireless campaigner for the rights of women and children, and led the campaign to save St Peters Church om developers. She is a former Argus columnist whose writings were unlike anything that has appeared before or since. Jean is a first rate listener and story teller, who could bring the experiences of ordinary people into the heart of Council deliberations. A return to the Council Chamber would ensure that issues of women and children rights would not be sidedlined as they can, so often, be.

Roger French is already one of the most influential people in the City, running the bus company and chairing the Local Strategic Partnership. I am an admirer of Roger although a strong critic of his decision to charge double fares on his buses on Boxing Day – a modern day Scrooge! The reason for wanting him on the Council, apart from the City benefiting even more from his vision, is to make him democratically accountable which would be appropriate for someone with his level of influence.

Andrew Manson-Brailsford is the Church of England vicar at St George’s Church in Kemptown. Unlike many CoE clergymen, Father Andrew has a true commitment to his community. He is well liked and widely respected (although not always by the hierarchy of the Church). He has created a thriving community centre within the church. The Council would benefit from his record on regeneration.

Selma Montford has singlehandedly preserved much of the architectural heritage of Brighton. She has fought what sometimes has seemed to be a one woman campaign against the worst excesses of development. Selma has also been able to compromise and has not held up developments required for the economic prosperity of the City, but has done so without compromising her own integrity.

Isla Robertson is one of the most formidable, feisty and fearless women campaigners of her or any other generation. She has chaired the Pensioners’ Association for many years and, if she was in the Council Chamber, would ensure that the interests of pensioners, working class people and women would not be sidelined. God help any Council officer if they got in the way of Ms Robertson and her crusade to highlight inequality.

There could be many others on this list, such as Val Paynter and Val Richards, and others who have put themselves forward to serve the City but who have (yet) not been elected such as Anthea Ballam and Jo Heard. I apologise to all those who aren’t on this list … yet.

Announcing the outstanding candidate, with youth and good looks, for Hove 2015

From the reaction to yesterday’s post, it appears that the campaign in Hove in 2015 is already capturing the imagination. There is speculation about the Labour candidate, the advantage of women candidates, and the merits of experience over youth.

Councillor Christopher Hawtree agrees that Hove is an interesting prospect: “The subject of the Hove constituency is certainly more galvanising than a gathering of the Strategic Partnership. A point not made by the blogger is that, very winnable, Hove could attract the attention of candidates from elsewhere. Meanwhile, in studying it, I think I have found the key factor in a close-run Election, but am hardly going to say so here.”

Clive agrees that Mike Weatherley could be vulnerable: “1800 majority and 37% of the vote does not equal hard to shift, unless Argentina invade the Falklands again. It is very easy to exaggarate the effect of an individual MP’s efforts at social work.” Perhaps so, Clive, but Mike has already impressed with his careful nurturing of the constituency and he has a populist appeal.

So what can councillor Chris have discovered? He is right that Hove, as a winnable seat could attract candidates from beyond the city. If Labour or the Greens did so, it would be a mistake. There is much speculation that Labour is looking to Simon Burgess.

Luke Walter (who rumour has it may have Green leanings), writes of the likely Labour candidate: “For once, I agree with Zombie, a female candidate would stand a much better chance for Labour. However, given that the Kemptown seat is an all-woman shortlist (AWS) and Hove isn’t, Burgess only has one option (unless he can persuade the NEC to keep Pavilion open to all, though, I doubt he wants to stand there). Therefore, Hove it will be for Mr. Burgess unless the local party opts for someone else. Given Warren Morgan’s own friendship with Burgess and the East Brighton grip over Labour’s constituency parties in the city, I imagine the local Labour selection for Hove will be without a credible challenge to Burgess.”

But some feel that a different brand of candidate should be chosen. I suggested female and young in the case of the Greens. Likewise, Zombie proposes female and young for Labour: “A Green candidate in place now (probably Alex Phillips) could start to build a challenge. This could become momentum given a fair wind from B & H council’s activities or the kiss of death. Labour can help the Greens by selecting someone mediocre from outside the area, or can select someone with potential like the Benn girl who stood in Shoreham in 2010 or perhaps Clare Calder. Leaving selection late will help the Green challenger. In any event the Green Alex Phillips lookalike will need to show she is best placed to challenge Weatherly well beforehand for the Lab vote to evaporate.”

Zombie urges Labour not to waste time: “Labour would do well to select their Alex Phillips now and establish their own campaigning radical credentials. They might then squash the Green Alex as the clear non-Tory alternative.”

Finally, it appears that I am getting under Clive’s skin. He writes: “I do find the blogger’s repetitive promotion of a select few annoying, because it seems to be based on so little in the way of substance.” But Clive, I am totally devoid of substance! But give me some credit – I say it as I see it, and I am not often wrong. I predicted Alex Phillips’ Goldsmid by-election victory when others did not, I called Brighton Pavilion correctly, and I was within a seat for both Labour and the Greens this May. I also said that my friend Warren Morgan would romp home and that Brian Fitch would regain his seat. You are right, Clive, I concentrate on the select few.

But I do agree with Clive on his final point: “There is a wider, national malaise in our politics too, in the elevation of (relative) youth and (relative) good looks above substance.”

So to add to this national malaise, there is just one person who has the youth and good looks necessary to beat Mike Weatherley. Yes, it is your ever so humble Blogger.

Hove set to be a three way marginal if exceptional candidates are selected

Earlier this week I speculated on the prospects of the three parties in Brighton Kemptown and Brighton Pavilion in 2015. Some correspondents have said it is hot air to speculate so far off, that there are many twists and turns between now and then: how the Green administration will fair, the state of the economy and, most importantly, the revival of the Labour Party which, according to Harris Fitch, has already begun!

Absolutely right, no serious commentator would be so foolish as to make any predictions at this stage. Since I am not a serious commentator, here is my take on Hove 2015.

Mike Weatherley, contrary to speculation, will not be approaching 70 in 2015. He is a sprightly 53 year old with the best years still ahead of him, and kept young by the bright young things around him (Michael, Robert, Grizzly). He has already built a respectable reputation and knows how to press the right buttons for key groups of constituents. He will be very difficult to shift, though impossible.

To defeat Mighty Mike will require a combination of a swing away from the Tories, a local factor or two, and a first rate candidate. An anti-Tory swing will be there unless the Tory government softens its harsh approach to public sector cuts. Inevitably, the scale of the cuts is and will impact on ordinary people and the level of anger will increase. Where that anger will be directed will depend on how Labour and the Greens perform ove the next 4 years. The consolation prize for Labour is their ability to be bit part players for the next 4 years. They can oppose both the Tories and the Greens from the side lines.

The Greens have a trickier situation. As a minority administration they will be scrutinised and criticised, whether justified or not. Already some nonsense has been written about the Green Council. Those most likely to be criticised will be the ten Cabinet members. But what the Greens have, and will continue to have going for them, is good will. Most neutrals, as well as those (like me) who can vote Labour as easily as vote Green, will continue, at worst, to give the Greens the ‘benefit of the doubt’, and more likely vote for the freshness of their ideals and approach.

So who might stand for Labour and for the Greens. The right candidate will pursued me who I might endorse. In Brighton Pavilion in 2010, there were three outstanding candidates. The Tory candidate Chuck Vere had a special something, and in spite of our occasional spats, I liked her and I think, secretly, she had a more than a little affection for me! In an other election Labour’s Nancy Platts would have stood out as an exceptional candidate and could have defied a swing against her party. But she stood in the wrong constituency at that election. For against her was the outstanding candidate of the 2010 general election, the Greens Caroline Lucas. Ms Lucas stands out as one of the top ten parliamentarians, and in particular, women parliamentarians.

In the end, after some hesitation, I supported Caroline Lucas’ candidature, and I will endorse (and I might be able to cast a vote for) the best candidate in the Hove constituency. The front runner in Hove for Labour is Simon Burgess. Simon is a nice guy, but he isn’t someone who will beat Mike Weatherley. Celia Barlow might try again, but she (like Simon) has a history of being beaten and (again like Simon) is unlikely to galvanise party members. I don’t know who in Labour locally has it, but I am willing to be persuaded.

For the Greens, there are several possible candidates. The name Hawtree has been mentioned, but winning a seat in Central Hove singlehandedly is one thing, winning a constituency is rather a different matter. Ian Davey has stood before, but lovely man though he may be, isn’t going to capture the imagination of the electorate. Forgive me Ian, but age and gender are not on your side.

Age and gender favour someone whose name has been suggested to me by several people recently, including Labour Party members, who fear that Alex Phillips might do in Hove what Caroline Lucas has achieved in Brighton Pavilion. Councillor Phillips has wisely avoided becoming a Cabinet member, allowing her the freedom to speak freely and to campaign tirelessly. She has energy, enthusiasm and ability, and the Greens would boost their prospects if they choose someone like Alex Phillips as their candidate.

The Impossible Task for Labour and the Tories in Brighton Pavilion

“Roll up, roll up, see the slaughter of the Innocents” or more to the point, who wants to put themselves forward to become parliamentary candidate in Brighton Pavilion for either the Labour or Conservative parties?

Assuming there are no significant changes to the boundaries before 2015, Caroline Lucas will be defending her seat, and likely to be returned with a bumper majority. Last time, many left of centre voters were undecided whether to vote Labour or Green, fearing that a vote for the Green candidate would let the Tories in. Labour pumped out this message in their literature, and as a result many people ‘played safe’ and voted Labour. Many of these same people will not be misled again and will be voting Green. The lies told by Labour in their election literature this May, that only Labour could form an administration (result, 23 Green councillors, 13 Labour) will have persuaded more voters not to believe Labour’s farcical claims in the future.

Caroline Lucas is steadily building up a strong personal vote. She is widely admired and respected, nurturing the constituency. She is an impressive individual who is conducting herself impeccably.

Further damage is being done by rumours and innuendo that is being spread by some Labour activists about Caroline and other leading Greens. Those responsible for this should take care – false claims about employment and travel perks are libellous. Not just that, it continues a trend going back to May 2010 of Labour being bad losers. Labour activists should spend more time sorting themselves out rather than making unfounded claims against Green activists.

So who in their right mind amongst the Labour ranks wants to put themselves forward for a ritual humiliation, trailing in a distant third? It is less of a problem for Conservatives. The Tory candidate can expect to make a respectable showing, but they too will be soundly beaten by Ms Lucas.

Can the Caroline Effects influence the Hove constituency. I’ll post something on this laterin the week.