Is there any place for comedy in politics?

The excellent piece by Pearl Ahrens got me thinking about humour in politics. Here’s a start: A man with a crocodile walks into a pub and asks the barman: “Do you serve Lib Dems?” “Sure”, says the barman. Man: “Could I have a pint of beer and a Lib Dem for my croc”. Not very funny, I know, and I adapted it from a joke told by Kevin Maguire on Twitter the other night. The butt of Kevin’s version were social workers, so I am showing some bias in the telling.

Politicians of all parties can be funny, but I am not sure whether they (we) as a breed are naturally funny. The ‘jokes’ at Prime Minister’s Questions are often very laboured, well prepared, and delivered with the same gentle touch that Vinnie Jones employs when he arranges flowers.

In Britain we have been blessed by generations of amazing satirists who have brought pompous politicians down to earth. Among my favourites is Brighton’s own Steve Bell. I’m not sure what kind of mind he has. How does someone think to picture John Major wearing his underpants outside his trousers? I heard from the great man himself (Bell, not Major) that Michael Hesseltine had loved being portrayed as Tarzan, even offering to pay a large sum of money for an original until Bell told Tarzan’s assistant that the cheque should be made payable to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament!

Much political humour is aimed at putting down one’s political opponents. Much of Churchill’s humour had a nasty edge, saying that Clem Atlee had a lot to be humble about, his reference to an empty taxi pulling up outside No 10 and out stepped Mr Attlee, and saying to a woman who had accused him of being drunk that she was ugly but at least he would be sober in the morning.

I can be accused of name calling on this blog, and I apologise if anyone has taken offence, although I think that secretly – or not so secretly – my ‘victims’ quite like my feeble attempts at humour. Momma Grizzly uses that description on her Twitter profile. The Estate Agent enjoys his title not so much, nor le Toothbrush or la Toothbrush. I’m not sure what Lady Everton, the Bishop, and others think of their names. I am advised, and The Ghost of Nobby Clarke can tell me if this is true, that the former Labour rebel, Richard Stanton used to refer to a very macho Labour Chief Whip (whose name I can’t remember) as Skippy (as in the Kangaroo). He apparently hated it.

Actually, the reason for this post is so that I can tell a couple of feeble jokes, and hopefully you can respond in kind. So here goes –

A politician went to see his doctor: “Doctor, I’m addicted to Twitter”. The doctor replied: “I’m sorry, I don’t follow you”.

At a political meeting I met a young women. I asked her her name. “Chantelle”, she said. I said “Go on”.

And finally, a joke I’ve told on this blog before: A man goes into the Lib Dem bookshop and asks the assistant: “Can I have a copy of your manifesto?”. “Sorry, we’ve sold out”. “I know that, but can I have a copy of your manifesto?”.

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Who are the best politicians in Brighton and Hove?

At present, given their electoral success, the Greens could claim to be the best politicians in Brighton and Hove. Individual Greens could be seen as having achieving remarkable things. Caroline Lucas continues to be the dominant individual, but a success for the party is the emergence of other Greens. Bill Randall has made a solid start as the Greens’ first ever leader of a local authority, and is impressing all who deal with him. In the elections themselves, Christopher Hawtree stunned all with his victory in Central Hove.

Amongst the Tories, rumour has it that Mike Weatherley is looking for a junior position in the Home Office. He has focussed much of his efforts in recent weeks on home affairs issues – Travellers, squatters, anti-social behaviour, drugs, etc. With the support and influence of Mamma Grizzly, can we expect to see armed police as a norm, even the return of capital punishment? (I have no reason to believe the Grizzly One advocates either, but I know she will always respond to any provocation!)

Labour, as the minority party in Brighton and Hove, with no MPs and few councillors, is finding it hard to be noticed. I retain some admiration for Warren Morgan and his fighting spirit. (Warren was recently photographed with sheep in Sheepcote Valley http://fb.me/BShMUeAA – Warren is the one wearing sunglasses).

Amongst the fringe activists, one has to mention My Pal Paul Perrin of UKIP. He never misses a chance to make anti-European comments, or to attack the political establishment. His latest target is payments to or expenses claimed by politicians. Perhaps he should be known as PayPal Perrin or perhaps No PayPal Paul.

But none of the above rank as the best politician. The are some individuals in the business community, Roger French from Brighton and Hove Buses, Sue Addis from Donatellos, and Mike Holland from Fingers in Many Pies, who have worked politicians of many shades to achieve their own ends. So too in the community and voluntary sector, there are several more than able politicians, who are able to bend with the prevailing wind. I think of Ian Chisnall from a church group, David Standing of Hove YMCA, Andy Winter of the Brighton Housing Trust, and Emma Daniel of the Community and Voluntary Sector Forum.

The best politicians in town, however, the five most accomplished by far, are John Barradell, the Chief Executive, and his Strategic Directors in the City Council (David Murray, Charlie Stewart, Geoff Raw and Terry Parkin). The Greens were committed to abolishing the Fab Four, but it looks as though they will survive and are going about their daily business showing not an iota of care. Such is their combined political nouce, they have made the transition from a Conservative to a Green regime as easy as moving from a starter of blue cheese and biscuits to a serving of steak, egg and chips (except, of course, on meat-free Mondays).

A review of May’s local elections, as seen by birds

I was recently sent an amazing, original review of the local elections. With the agreement of the author, Pearl Ahrens, I reproduce an extract here.

“It’s a week after kestrelection day, and the kites have been counted, cormorants have been congratulated / consoled and meetings have been held. Last year’s kestrelection victory was replayed, with the Grebe Party winning 23 seats on the barnowl, making them the biggest party. The Grebe Group made the announcement on Monday that it will not form a coachicken with the Labullfinch Group, but instead form a minority admoorhenstration.

“Grebes Phalarope Maccaferty and Owlie Snipes took over from the defector Diverd Waxwing, who was standing again as and indepheasant, and Paul Eagled, a Lib Dem. The Lib Dems selected Brian Rock-Dove as a fellow cormorant for Paul.

“Ania Kitcoot, the only Slavonian Grebe on the barnowl, got a seat next to her husband, Jason Kitcoot.

“Tern Sandfrench lost out on a seat in Quail’s Park that he really wanted, by 325 kites. But Quail’s Park is still grebe, with Ben Dunlin staying on but two new barnowlors taking over: Steph Petrel and Geoffrey Birden.

“In St Pintail’s and Nuthatch Laine, Lizzie Dunnock got about 300 kites more than her fellow Grebe cormorants Ian Diver and Pete Whinchat, but they all got kestre-elected. Clare Curlew (hatchling of Jean Curlew and Andean Condor) put up a good flight but should probably try again in a safer Labullfinch seat.

“Diver Bangs, author of the book ‘Where the meadowpipit meets the waterpipit’, stood in Moulescoomb and Bevendean for Tern Union and Stonechat Coachicken (T.U.S.C.), but to no avail, as, sadly, he only got 267 kites.

“The Consparrowhawks ditched barnowlor Magpie Mears as leader of the Consparrowhawk group in favour of Geoffrey Theobaldeagle, ex-cabinercaillie-member-for-the-envionment. Fellow Rottingdean Seabirds barnowlor Lynda Hide caused outrage at the budgie meeting by squarking at the public gallery to “Pay your taxes!”

“The Consparrowhawks did very badly all over the city. Rob Jayrett, Ruth Bullfinch and Skylarks Philips snatched the former Consparrowhawk stronghold of Goldcrest for the Grebes.

“The result in Patcham was only as expected. All 3 Consparrowhawk barnowlors got kestre-elected with a 609 majority on the runner-up cormorant: Hugh Woodcock, a Grebe. Carol and Geoffrey Theobaldeagle and Brian Pigeon are the barnowlors.

“In a welcome surprise victory, the Grebe Christopher Hawktree won his long-eared long-tailed seat in Central Dove. He famgrousely got challenged to a duel by Tory barnowlor Diverd Smewth in the pages of the Argoose. Hawktree rejackdawed the challenge because he was going to the librookery that day.”

Apologies that I didn’t post this much earlier but I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

Reward councillors for their hard work and dedication

Earlier this week I reported on a comment attributed to Grant Shapps during his love-in with Jason Kitcat, a councillor of this Parish. Mr Shapps is said to have expressed the view that councillors should not be paid, and neither should Members of Parliament.

Linda asks if Jason Kitkat had actually asked Grant Shapps about extra funding for councillors to cover childcare.  She writes: “Being a councillor is not (or should not be) a full-time job, it’s voluntary, like being a magistrate etc.  I presume people shouldn’t volunteer to become councillors if they don’t have the spare time to fulfil the duties of their post.”

I agree with Clive’s sarcastic response to Linda: “Quite right. Only rich people who can afford childcare should be allowed to be councillors, what-what?”

In an area like Brighton and Hove, being a councillor is almost a full time job, not least if you are a Cabinet member of a leading opposition spokesperson. It raises the question: what sort of person do we want as our elected representatives? Do we just want people who are well off (ie. rich) to become councillors? Do we just want ‘professional’ activists – those who work for MPs (Bishop Brian, Momma Grizzly, etc.)?

Paul Perrin suggests asks “how about ensuring that candidates for the council have had a reasonably wide experience of normal life before the become councillors? There’s a thought!”

It is not easy being a candidate or councillor. Someone recently commented that it seems to be easier to progress as a political employee than someone with a non-political career. Several former Green councillors did not stand at the recent elections because they found being a Councillor was not compatible with progressing their careers.

Again, I agree with Clive: “It may not be the best time to suggest childcare allowances for councillors given the general picture. But, having read Jason Kitcat’s blog, it seems to me that the really extraordinary point is Grant Shapps’ suggestion that even MPs ought not to be paid, let alone councillors. How reactionary are some of these people! It’s like local Tory wire-puller Mike Holland, and his brilliant idea of reserving half the council’s seats for business people (and how on earth would you define that precisely?) Representative government ought to be what it says, and to that end some effort ought to be made – though perhaps not right now – to encourage more councillors with young families.  My impresssion is that there aren’t too many at the moment – perhaps if there had been more the city wouldn’t have reached crisis point over schools places?”

I think a fundamental reform is needed. Let’s reduce the number of councillors from 54 to, say, 24, and let’s pay them a decent wage commensurate with the responsibilities they carry. Give them proper admin support so that they can work full time on leading the city.

I have no sympathy with the view that it should be a voluntary endeavour. Give the Kitcats child care. Pay maternity and paternity leave. Make pension contributions. If I was a councillor, I would want to do it as a full time job, get properly rewarded for doing a good job. I wouldn’t want to end my term looking 84 rather than my actual 24…..

A final footnote on political love-ins. Paul Perrin, he of UKIP fame, asks whether it was a freudian slip when I referred to him as “Pal” Perrin’. He asks if I am going soft and reminded me that I said that I would rather stick pins in my eyes than vote UKIP. That remains the case, but I have grown rather fond of my pal Perrin in spite of his views. But, yes, Sweetie, I am going soft.

Praying for peace and harmony between Jason and Grant, and Dawn and the Travellers

What a love-in. Jason and Grant. A marriage made in heaven. Grant tweets support for Jason, and Jason writes in almost affection terms of Grant. Actually, I imagine that they would both say it would be a civil partnership created in hell. For today, the Cabinet Member for Finance and Central Services on Brighton and Hove City Council, Jason Kitcat, called in on the Minister for Housing and Local Government, Grant Shapps.

They chatted fondly of ‘Videogate’ when Jason was hauled through the Standards Committee for posting extracts from a council meeting on You Tube. Grant recalled Tweeting a message of support.

Not all the meeting went according to plan. Grant declined to make more money available to Brighton and Hove, as well as letting on that he felt councillors and MP’s should not be paid anything! There is a short report on Jason’s visit to the Department for Communities & Local Government on his blog.

Perhaps Jason would have been more successful had he heeded the advice from Pal Perrin and attended prayers before Council meetings. Paul writes: “I think a moment of contemplation, reflection (or ‘prayers’) before meetings should be compulsory. An opportunity for our representatives to remind themselves that they are servants not leaders (whether or not they are religious) – if they want to lead they need to persuade the public and then follow them!” If it is of any comfort to Bill Randall, I pray for him every night! I am sure he will gain strength for that.

For good measure, Paul, who is on a one man crusade to hold the Green administration to account, asks: “So how is this absurd meat free mondays thing going?”. The other day I chanced upon the Greens answer to Delia Smith, councillor Amy Kennedy, but no mention was made of meat free Mondays. In the best tradition of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, I have become vegetarian on Mondays. I only cook Lamb.

There has been. Some comment on Dawn Barnett and her intervention on travellers. You will recall that Dawn visited a travellers camp in her ward and gave them written directions to Green wards. Zombie writes: “I am surpised Dawn Barnett has been allowed to get away with all she has done, relatively unchallenged. She has incited tresspass elesewhere in Brighton. She has tried to straightjacket councillors into attending prayers on a like it or not basis (most Lab councillors didn’t attend prayers in the 70s with no fuss made).” I think I should start praying for Zombie, as well.

Zombie continues: “Some Labour councillor (Brian Fitch where are you?) could have stood up for local residents less stridently and in a less inflamatory way.Someone could have stood up for freedom of expression and thought. Labour has been inept and cowardly and has allowed Dawn Barnett and Tories like Mike Weatherly and Geoffrey Theobald to do all the running in making political hay, while the Greens pile on error after error. The Greens will learn or be overwhelmed. Labour will deserve to disappear from political life in B & H if it cannot speak a lot louder than it has been of late.”

While disagreeing with what Dawn Barnett did, I do admire the sheer cheek of what she has done, and other councillors could be well advised to show some imagination in their campaigning.

Are Labour and the Tories ‘doing politics’ better than the Greens

Momma Grizzly cares! Earlier this evening she left a message on this blog with the simple question: “Are you still alive, Baps?”

Indeed I am but from time to time I am not in a position to post. However, the last week has been interesting. Mike Weatherley has been active (well supported by Grizzly, Mike Ireland and Robert Nemeth). He has been trying to take the political initiative on anti-social behaviour, dilapidated ‘heritage’ signs in Hove, calling for the Olympic flame to come not just to Brighton but also to Hove, has called for the new Green Administration to “get tough on travellers, squatters and quasi-protesters who are vandalising parts of Brighton & Hove”, suggested greater courage in architectural issues, and called on people to give blood!

So why this activity? Well Mike has always been an active MP but he must see that the advance of the Greens into Hove as a threat to his re-election.

The Greens are not doing themselves many favours as they have fed Mr Weatherley issue after issue – protest camp in the Old Steine, invitation to demonstrators, etc. The latest is the call by Caroline Lucas to decriminalise drugs could yet be spun by Mike, although I suspect he is not a million miles away from Ms Lucas on this issue. But it is an issue that does not play well with the public.

The Greens need to ensure that they maintain the initiative otherwise they will be bashed at every turn. But the transformation from opposition into an administration is not an easy one. New portfolios need to be taken on, briefs understood, and invitation after invitation to be responded to. Time to do politics is being squeezed.

But doing politics is what the Greens need to do. It is easy to be seduced by office. But the Greens have offered a new style of engagement – openness and engagement, but already here are murmerings that some Cabinet members have become remote and communication within the council are not easy, in spite of what the Greens wish to achieve.

Labour and Tory councillors are putting themselves around and are presenting themselves as accessible to the community. This is not difficult while in opposition. One or two councillors have undertaken some publicity-catching initiatives, such as Dawn Barnett who visited travellers in her ward to give them directions to sites in wards represented by Green councillors. Dee Simpson, too, has shown some populist campaigning with the launch of a petition.

There is scope for the Greens, particularly those not in the Cabinet, to maintain the populist touch. They need to be the match for the newly liberated Tory councillors and the long liberated Labourites. The Greens should allow their non-Cabinet colleagues to have freedom to raise issues, even those for which fellow Greens are responsible.

Students AFFECT elections, and some of you don’t like it

Green Dad is right, my last post should have read “Students affect elections, housing and jobs” and not “Students effect …”. Shows you what a superior private education learned me!

In the responses received to this post I sense, if I am brave enough to suggest it, a bit of hypocracy from Momma Grizzly. She writes: “Regarding students having the ability to vote back “home” and in their university town, I find this to be extremely unfair. Why should one group have the chance to vote twice?”. She then says that “When I was a student, I could vote in Brighton & Hove and I could also vote in Belfast.” But did the Grizzly One exercise her two votes that she now denounces? I suspect someone with her passing interest in politics might, just might, have used both her votes.

Matt Dent, who left a comment at 6.46am (can he genuinely be a student? He may have just got home) did exercise his right to vote early and often: “I did indeed exercise my right to vote both here in Brighton and back at “home”. This was for a simple reason- I feel I have a stake in both places, and in what happens in both places. And I think that’s entirely right. Frankly, I don’t feel any less of a member of the community than a non-student resident of Brighton. I live here, I pay rent, I shop in the local shops. The fact that I may leave after I’ve finished studying is irrelevant. Looking at it from the other direction, I’m guaranteed to be here for at least three years. If I leave after that, how am I any different to a non-student leaving Brighton. Should they too be denied the right to vote if they’re going to be living here less than the full four-year electoral cycle? I hope that sounds as ridiculous to everyone else as it does to me.”

Caroline Penn (who always speaks sense) writes: “I would guess most of the contributors got involved in politics at a relatively young age. If we can engage with students now, hopefully we will be encouraging a new generation of activists.  I genuinely feel a sense of sadness for students today. Cameron’s generation received grants, tax breaks for parent contributions and even housing benefit. I do question whether my friends & I would have gone to university today had fees been introduced. The recession of the early 90s and student loan debts were bad enough.  The impact of tuition fees may well change the type of student coming to Brighton. The natural conclusion of such a regressive policy may well led to a university education becoming the preserve of the rich. It is possible that the changing student demographic may well impact on city politics.”

Another regular commentator, Paul Perrin, opens up an interesting dimension on the student debate: “Students interests are likely to be quite distinct to those of other residents – how many have kids in schools here? elderly relatives dependent on care here? will be around to care about the outcome of planning decisions made to day that may happen in a decade? But then neither do many residents for all sorts of reasons – and they get to vote…  It is a flaw in our electoral system that diverse issues get batched up in to ill-fitting party manifestos – i.e. there is no reason some ones view on (say) public transport should dictate their view on almost any other subject – but you only vote for a clunky package of policies. Until that is fixed, we are stuck with what we have.  The biggest potential injustice in this is (of course) who ends up paying for the decisions made by those elected…  Then again the people who are students now are going to paying back the debts being run up now (the governments and their own) for the rest of their lives…”  Of course students, being younger than Paul and your Aged Blogger, will be living with the consequences of this government’s policies far longer than us.

Zombie recognises that the 40,000 students “certainly affect elections in Brighton.  I think it right that they do since they are here. What is a problem is possible multi voting if they have more than one residence. Up to the 70s business owners had a vote for the council separate from their residence and thus could vote twice. There were more than 1000 business voters in the then St Nicholas Ward alone. This democratic deficit was abolished for its unfairness. No-one should vote more than once even if legally registered for more than one place.”

Zombie points to a “domocratic deficit”: “A further problem arises if you get a high concentration of students tacked on to otherwise distinct residential areas(such as with H & S in Brighton). You can get a democratic deficit if high turnout at the Uni polling station overturns what would have ben the result in the residential areas (it happened this year). I would rather se a mini- Uni ward created with one elected member than that situation though the blame really lies at the foot of the boundary comissioners.”

The reality about students is that for three or four (or in some cases, more) years they are Brighton and Hove residents.  The Tories seem to have an issue with this (not Grizzly, though). It might be the case that with the trebling of tuition fees, after the backlash has subsided, students may well come from richer backgrounds, and they might be more Conservative in views. But I don’t think the Tories will ever be able to attract the university vote, and that the Greens will continue to capture the imagination of students who will continue to be more idealistic that my friend Paul Perrin or this Aged Blogger.

I’m off to do lines, 100 of them: “Students AFFECT elections, housing and jobs”, “Students AFFECT elections, housing and jobs”, “Students AFFECT elections, housing and jobs”, “Students AFFECT elections, ……”