Labour is no closer than ever to understanding how to respond to the Greens

The Labour Party in Brighton and Hove is in an unenviable position. Its group of councillors (now officially the Labour and Co-operative Group) has made a decision not to approach the Greens about a formal coalition.

Already some party activists and councillors are already making unrealistic predictions about 2015. Rob Macey has written: “we need to set a high bar for the greens. they have got what they have always wanted but I predict that this will lance the boil and give us the opportunity, if we sort ourselves out, to take full control back next time around.”

There is no way that Labour will come anywhere near taking control next time. The next locals are likely to take place on the same day as the general election in 2015. Caroline Lucas will be re-elected with a thumping majority, with Labour coming in a distant third. (It is not just me who thinks this, but one leading member of the local Laour Party has written “With the win in Withdean as well as those in Preston Park and Hollingdean & Stanmer Caroline Lucas is now well placed to achieve a five-figure majority in 2015.”)

Labour has misled the electorate in two elections running (that only Labour could beat the Tories in Brighton Pavilion in 2010, and that only Labour could form an administration in 2011 – has Laour sacked the genius who insisted on this tosh?).

Yet Labour activists are blinded to reality. Christine Simpson has asked: “I am still not sure why their (the Greens) message was more believable than ours to many people in different parts of the city, except that they can put themselves forward as the non political party with clean green hands.” It might be the freshness of the Greens but Labour’s obsessive attacks on Caroline Lucas make the party look like bad losers, and many people are delighted that the City has produced the first Green MP. Caroline Lucas certainly hasn’t betrayed the faith people had in her and her reputation goes from strength to strength.

Labour on the other hand remains tainted by the last government. I have posted recently about the Labour Party welcoming David Milliband to Brighton – a very big mistake which no one in Labour has yet defended. Compared to the Greens, Labour appears tainted by Iraq, privatisation, university fees, etc. And now Labour activists are getting excited about Blue Labour. The Greens in Brighton and Hove will be laughing all the way to the next elections and beyond.

Labour needs to wipe the slate clean. Perhaps Gill Mitchell could apologise for Labour’s misleading statements on its election material. That would be a start. At least Labour should say now it won’t mislead the electorate in future elections. Craig Turton is one of the few Labour politicians with the necessary understanding of the situation: “I’ve said before that criticising the Greens is the political equivalent of clubbing seals and our experience on the doorstep has proved this has been the case so far as voters simply don’t believe us.”

But the immediate dilemma for Labour is how it responds to the Green administration. In private one former Labour councillor pleaded with her former colleagues regarding a coalition: “don’t take the LibDems’ role to the Green Party. Let them mess it up!” Now that sentiment is not something most people in Brighton want to hear. It is in the best interests of the City and its residents that the new administration is successful. And Labour needs to support the Greens to be successful.

This is the unenviable position for Labour councillors. If they vote against the administration (ie. with the Tories), their reputation will plunge further and they will rightly be criticised by many, including this Blogger. If they abstain on crucial votes the question will be asked “what is the point of Labour councillors” (abstaining on the budget did not help an already wounded party). And if they vote with the Greens, the Greens will get the credit because they and nor Labour are the administration.

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29 Responses

  1. BPB I would love to know how Labour should deal with the Greens.

    Most Labour voters across the country do not match the Brighton demographic. How do you make Brighton Labour party electable in Brighton without abandoning central party.

    There are plenty of greeny guardian reading types who would like Labour to turn their back on central party. But it cannot, will not and should not happen. So how should Labour do it.

    I agree that Labour have lost in Brighton Pavilion and marginalised on the council for a generation. But that is because the people of Brighton are so different from everywhere else. How do you suggest Labour should respond.

  2. Once again quoting from leaked and edited emails, and drawing a picture that is heavily Green-tinted. Painting Labour’s straits as dire, and accusing anyone of disagreeing as being in denial. Claiming it is all still about Iraq and misleading lies on election material.

    Lets deal with a few of those.

    Labour scored the same number of votes citywide as the Greens – a fact. It didn’t get those votes where they were needed to win the seats, admitted. Labour was 150 to 200 votes short of winning additional seats in seven wards. It didn’t, but had it done it it would have been the largest group, just.

    Labour finished a relatively close second in all three parliamentary seats in the city last year, and level with the winners in terms of votes this year. Labour’s vote went up in every ward, most by 350, some by 500, one by 700. That does not paint a picture of a Party in terminal decline.

    Of course lessons need to be learned both in terms of policy, organisation and message, but any debate is painted as dissent and division. Over the coming weeks and months Labour will be consulting, meeting, listening and debating, not just within our membership but with voters, organisations and others to determine what we can do better.

    Apologizing for Iraq would please some on the Left who vote Green but who are unlikely to return to Labour because of an apology, and many would use that as yet another stick to beat Labour with.

    There was no need to approach the Greens about a formal coalition – one which would have been necessary if the Tories had still been the largest Group and a joint administration needed to outvote them. But it would have been very difficult for some members of both parties to stomach. The Greens are the largest party – on the same number of seats as the minority Labour administration of 2003 to 2007. Labour won’t back a Tory administration and the Greens are quite rightly forming their own Cabinet and will implement their own manifesto.

    Labour’s position is not “unenviable”. We will support the Greens and work with them on areas where we agree, where we share policies and objectives, and where we think they are doing the right thing. Where we disagree we will say so and state how we would do things differently. I think this is the approach the Greens have taken over the past 8 years and it is right we do the same.

    The electorate will judge how the Green council and the Green MP have conducted themselves in four years time, in the same way as they will pass judgement on the Coalition Government. Successful predictions of the local elections this year do not mean you have the ability to predict events and outcomes four years from now BPB, things may be very different, and events, dear boy, events…

    • One might equally say that there are several more seats that the Greens could have won. So Warren Morgan’s category of nearly won seats does not mean that much, but it will be interesting to see the attitude of vulnerable Tories, such as their new Leader. Will it be aggressive or defensive, or perhaps even measured when the point of al lthis is to foster a place for everybody to enjoy?

  3. Greens are now in charge albeit in a minority admin. This is now surely the big test.

    Labour have stayed firm on thirteen councillors,most with years of valuable experience, there is everything to play for next time. Our younger and new candidates gained a wealth of knowledge when campaigning and are a welcome addition to the review and plan which will make us re electable.

  4. As someone who is tribal Labour but hasn’t voted for the party since 1997 and has nothing to do with the local party my view is this. The organisation of a political party is irrelevant if it is effective. The Labour Party’s is not and I would say is dysfunctional. The main reason for this I believe is that it doesn’t know what it stands for. The mesage that we would make the cuts slightly slower than you, privatisation was our idea in the first place and we’re just as frightened of people like Rupert Murdoch as you are (and we need their money) is not attractive. Furthermore, its leaders are just as much part of the political Westminster class and come form as privileged backgrounds as the lot in power. I listen to some of them speaking and often they are dealing with some political nuance that most people neither care about nor understand.

    In particular, I believe alot of traditional supporters find the whole privatisation agenda offensive. Yes, public services must be constantly improved but why must this mean disadvantaging the majority of already low paid workers to make the already fabulously wealthy more so. I find this corrupt, maybe not legally but morally and intellectually. I find it deeply offensive that SERCO for example, should make money from transporting prisoners and running my pension. If the public sector shouldn’t have a monopoly why should the private sector?

    • Well said!

    • Unfortunately, government is very difficult, but the successes of Labour, (minimum wage, debt cancellation, massive investment in public services, etc) far outweigh the downsides. Much of this would never have been achieved with an old style command economy approach to areas such as health. The world is not as simple as you suggest, and the involvement of the private and voluntary sector has improved the lives of millions of people in this country. It is regrettable that some people have become very wealthy as a result, but that has to be weighed against the benefits delivered. Do you really long for the return of waiting months to have a phone line installed, and only one choice of provider?

      • And the gap between the richest and the poorest widened under Labour – that is it’s failure, a failure to have a brave and bold vision to deliver social change. Labour appeased Murdock, the City, and marketed themselves as a better version of conservative liberalism. Their failure of vision is obvious in Brighton where there is an alternative – the Greens.

      • Also, no I don’t want a ‘choice’ of providers. I don’t want ‘marketisation’. I want to use my nearest NHS hospital and know it is as good as any other, I want to use a local school which is just as good as others and is not exclusive. I don’t believe a ‘dog eat dog’ world of competition makes better services and I don’t believe allowing monopolies or oligopolies making huge profits off the backs of all people us a good way forward either (utility companies)

      • Kite – the Green Party manifesto would not deliver the kind of social change you are looking for. If they were to come to power the nation would be bankrupt within weeks as money flies abroad. We might like to live in a fantasy world, but in the real world, people’s jobs and services are dependent on a functioning economy. Unfortunately some people do get very rich, and we need to tax them in a way which maximises the money they have to pay. The Green Party manifesto cannot deliver a functioning economy. Their good fortune in B+H is that they will be reigned in by the Tory led government, who will prevent them following their instincts, and their desire to not mess it up for Caroline et al in 2015.

        I’m interested that you do not want choice in the decisions about your own life. The reality is that it is choice that has driven the improvements in health care, and it is choice that drives quality in most aspects of our lives. A state monopoly will stifle ideas and innovation.

        The Green Party have been very active in opposing clone type high streets, particularly the spread of Tesco and Sainsbury’s locally. what they argue for is choice and variety. I agree with that – would you just want everyone shopping at the same inefficient supermarket? The same principles apply to public services where there is not a natural monopoly.

        I have worked in the public sector for 30 years, and I can assure you that in my field, the only thing that has got people off their backsides to improve outcomes for service users has been competition from the independent sector. I want all my local schools to be good, but I also want to be able to choose which my children go to, based on their aptitudes and interests.

      • Faust – you choose the one area of modern life (telecommunications) where privatisation does seem to have accrued some benefits – though some might say that we now have a choice between 4 or 5 rubbish suppliers instead of just the one.

        The trouble is many of the privatised utllities (eg water, most of the rail network) have ended up as private monopolies, which is surely the worse possible outcome for everyone except the shareholders of the companies concerned.

        In many cases the even the supposed benefits of competition are dubious. Most people don’t have the time to compare and switch energy suppliers, and the tariffs are designed (by the regulator’s own observation) to confuse the punters.

        Then there is the forest of inefficient, non-transparent, toothless regulatory bodies. And don’t even get me started on hospital cleaning – the prime exampe of how competition can drive standards down as well as up.

        I am afraid it is market enthusiasts like yourself who are holding Labour back.

  5. Tactical voting has allowed/required Labour and Conservative to become such broad churches that they go out far to the sides but also have massive overlap in the middle.

    The make up of Brighton has meant that the most socialist part of labours tent has torn away here, and is the Greens.

    Labour could only hope to regain those votes by out flanking the Greens on the left — but this would be against everything the national party wants with is broad church policy.

  6. BPB – you really need do need to develop a more even handed approach with your critisisms of parties. You ask for an apology from Labour about ‘misleading’ material (which I would contest), but don’t ask for the same from the Green Party. You say the same about claims made over recent elections, but again don’t expect any contrition from the Green Party who did exactly the same. In both cases I consider the material put out to be par for the course tactics in trying to win votes and seats. Consistancy would be welcome.

    On the broader issue of how Labour respond to the Green Party being in the ascendancy locally – there are real problems for many Labour members and supporters. Some see the Green Party as sufficiently similar to Labour so that it doen’t really matter who wins, some see the Green Party as the reincarnation of a previous Labour Party which had been lost, and some see environmental concern as the key issue facing the world. For these people, a vote for the Green Party is an attractive proposition, particularly given the inevitable baggage that Labour comes with after many years of government.

    In other places where the Green Party have gained some momentum it has not progressed as it has in Brighton. Caroline is no doubt key to this, but it is not the whole picture. The demographic of Brighton is significantly different from Norwich or Oxford, and the Green Party has been effective at getting people who had stopped voting to the polling station, (don’t forget Labour’s vote went up in these elections – very significantly in many cases). What will work for Labour nationally is not what it needs locally, and the national picture must come first. The Green Party are not a national party in electoral terms, and so can direct their appeal much more narrowly.

    All of this makes life almost impossible for Labour in B+H, but they don’t need to win Pavilion to form a government in 2015. They do need to counter the Green Party if they are to take control of the Council again. The Green Party may help them in the years ahead – the lack of experiece in some key roles is a genuine problem for them – but they have to be ready to take advantage of any opportunities presented. The Green Party only gained the support of 1 in 6 of the electorate this month – there are plenty of votes still to be won.

  7. One thing which hasn’t been mentioned and, I believe, deserves attention, is the fact that the Greens outflanked every other party in the city at this election.

    Tactically, we got it just about right (with one or two exceptions). We understood our demographic better than Labour, we understood the kind of people who vote in local elections, we even understood their motivation for voting. In nearly all of these, Labour and the Tories got it wrong.

    Labour were saying ‘if you vote Green you get the Tories.’ The Tories were saying ‘if you vote Green you get Labour.’ I think we were the only ones saying ‘if you vote Green you get Green.’

    The truth is, Warren and his councillor colleagues in the Kemptown constituency need to try and understand why 1000 or so voters in EB and M&B voted Green in the locals with no obvious campaigning and with the continuous message ‘Greens can’t win’ or ‘voting Green only helps the Tories here.’

    However, we Greens are also at fault. We greatly underestimated our vote in those wards, as well as Westbourne in Hove. This mistake won’t be repeated again.

    Reading the comments from Labour councillors and Labour supporters, it is clear the party is in a pickle, as I’m sure the Tories are as well. Weatherly should be sweating in Hove and Portslade losing six seats last Friday. The same for Kirby in Kemptown, who was beaten into third by the Greens in two sizeable wards in his constituency.

    If the Greens political opponents are waiting in the dark until we slip-up, they’ve got another thing coming. From now on, they can expect a more confident, more slicker and bolder Green machine in Brighton AND Hove.

    • You cannot replicate it accross the country though. That is the reason you can be electorally successful across B+H.

      It annoyed me deeply when I went home to campaign and found the Green Party there were standing on a conservative, nimby and anti-development platform when I see the stuff you pedal in Brighton.

  8. Rob, you’re frustrated because the Greens are a bottom-up, democratic party led by local members? I haven’t seen the said literature nor what development they were opposing, however, there are plenty of places across the country where we’ve made progress.

    In Solihull, the local Greens have again beaten the leader of the Labour Group in an area widely regarded as being ‘working class.’ We’ve also made gains in Reading, Bristol and Reigate, which have their first ever Green Groups on local authorities. Even in my home village of Pulborough, the Greens came second to the Tories, beating the Labour, Lib Dem and Ukip candidates.

    • I am not trying to stop Greens trying to replicate this accross the country, certainly not bitter (a rare Labour activist who is fully behind the Green administration in fact). But I hate the ‘job done’ attitude the greens seem to be holding. Forming a minority administration in one city, getting one MP and a handful of MEPs is not success in a broader context.

  9. Didn’t Kirby in Kemptown also win 39 out of 39 seats up for grabs in the Lewes District part of the constituency?. The Greens didn’t even bother to put up any candidates!

  10. Don’t think we’ll be sweating just yet in the tory party about people who voted Green because they knew it would be a good protest vote and a lets see what the Eco-Socialists do for a few years and decide if we vote for them again senario, I suggest the Greens don’t get too excited as Lucas only won against an unpopular Labour party by a few thousand having thrown everything at Pavilion.

    • True, however, clearly some still believed that a vote for the Greens would let a Tory in. Instead, the Tory finished in third.

      There is far more support out there for CL than the 2010 result suggests given that a sizeable number of left-of-centre voters went with Labour as an anti-Tory vote.

      • Greens are a growing party who had some interesting results elsewhere in the south last week, I noticed not too far away in Hurstpierpoint which is normally regarded as a pin a blue rosette on a donkey and they’ll vote for it area that you pulled in some decent votes, you were growing anyway but Cleggs loss is Lucas’ gain..if you’re a sensible administration we have our work cut-out..but will you be?

  11. Hello bpb,

    I’d like your opinion. Unlike you I voted Green in the end, but I’m beginning to wonder whether I did the right thing. I like the fact they’ve got a female leader and a good one, but what do you think about this new cabinet? Ten cabinet places, with seven places for men and only three for women. And there’s only one woman in the three person leadership team. Amy Kennedy may be very competent as a deputy, but in setup like this she looks like a token female. And why isn’t Alex Phillips there? She’s the one who won Goldsmid.

    And what do you think about Jason Kitkat? He’s in the cabinet, but his wife Anya isn’t.. It wasn’t because she is a new councillor – new blokes were included. I’m told he appeared with her at the count clutching her hand like Stepford husband.

    Anya got more votes than Jason did, but when the Argus asked him why he said it was because she is better looking. News for you Jason – we voted for Anya because we thought she’d be an excellent councillor…..sexist dopydrawers.

    • Oh come on, Jason K’s remark sounds completely thowaway! Fair point about overall cabinet balance, though it was all voted on, and personally I’m impressed that they’ve gone for experience. They will need all of that.

  12. interesting on the greens…I think caroline has blotted her copybook by still living in oxford and her kids in private school abroad…..sounds like do what I say not do what I do

    re Alex philips I heard she was standing for Hove in 2015 against Mike Weatherley….she could be the second female MP for the Greens then

  13. @grumpy old man

    Caroline Lucas does not live in Oxford, where on earth did you here that?

    She lives in Brighton Pavilion. Her family are now joining her, and hopefully they will all be living in Pavilion in a week or so……

  14. As a tribal Labour person, knowing that the average Labour vote on 6/5 in B & H(total party ward vote divided by candidates, aggregated by total wards) was only 23 behind the Greens, I believe there are grounds for cautious optimism.

    Like the good Doctor Faust and Warren imply, all is to play for.

    What B & H Lab does and stands for is important.
    As a class party Labour’s constituency became too narrow and it could not win. Blair was right to try to widen our appeal to progressives but he went too far away from Labour as the party of the working class.
    B & H Labour should be a class war party. It should herald only it can represent the working people of the City- the public sector workers, the unemployed, those suffering in crappy private tenements, the poorly paid. It should declare war on all who are not defenders of the working class.

    Labour also needs to go beyond class and be a class plus party. That plus is to represent the progressive intelligentsia who are allies of the working class.

    Locally Greens should be portrayed now as the Establishment- something that will play well in areas like Preston Park. Some artistic people there I spoke to at an Open House said they were now Labour precisely because Greens were now the Establishment in the City. This will play better with time as Greens get criticised for cuts, hordes of incoming travellers, etc.

    As I previously mentioned elsewhere, Green groups do not inexorably rise- Lancaster’s Greens went down from 12 to 8. Greenism can be fought!

  15. […] Brighton Politics blogger, in his Post ‘Labour is no closer than ever to understanding how to respond to the Greens’  talks about how Labour have rejected a coalition with the Brighton Green Party. There is no way that […]

  16. I have to give credit to Zombie, at least he attempts to understand the Greens, I can’t say that for many Labour commentators on this blog.

    However, he is wide of the mark if he believes there will be an immediate switch back to Labour. The problem with Labour isn’t just its messaging, the real problem is its organisation or, rather, lack of. Because of the inherent weaknesses in Labour’s electoral campaign model across the city, they greatly underestimated the Green vote in Preston Park and Hollingdean and overestimated the Labour vote in Hanover and Queens Park. This is partly arrogance, partly being victim of national opinion polls but, mostly, a problem in its organisation. If Labour had started their canvassing much earlier in Hollingdean, we might have been looking at a very different result. However, as it was, when Labour had the opportunity to mobilise 35 local activists (a feat for any party in this election), instead of sending them over to Hollingdean and Preston Park, they concentrated that energy into two wards they were always going to struggle to win back.

    I, like many in the Greens, would like to see Labour become better friends to the Greens. Believe it or not, I’m a pluralist. As the recent elections have shown, Brighton and Hove is big enough for both parties, however, our unreformed electoral system means that voters desired outcomes don’t often become a reality.

    However, I will always believe the Greens can do a better job than Labour could. The same way Labour members believe their party would do a better one than we Greens. That’s just politics.

  17. Luke, pluralism is good but Lab/Greens have to compete. For most of the last 80 yrs there has been one progressive alternative to Toryism in B & H. The Lib Dems were unable to compete with Lab and Lab strength grew as the demographics shifted towards the young, educated incomers.
    Now seems like a transition -Greens will either replace Labour or be a somewhat prolonged Poujadist flash party that disappears after a while.

    As for organisation- when in 1971 I was ward organiser for the then Elm Grove, I could get 35 activists in just that ward. Ward meetings were frequent, elections were thoroughly organised- there were organisation day schools organised by Nobby Clarke. Happy days.Yet because of national politics and an inefffective local opposition there were years when Lab could only win one council seat in the whole of Brighton and none in Hove.
    Good organisation comes with crusading pupose. The people will choose who is to oppose Tories-if Greens prevail good luck to you. If it is Labour it can only be because we have differentiated ourselves and Grrens fall out amonst themselves as has happened elsewhere.

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