Stupid statements from Douglas Alexander must have had Brighton & Hove Labour activists in Liverpool squirming

A well attended fringe meeting this week at Labour’s Conference in Liverpool was one that looked at how Labour could see off the threat of the Green Party which was described as a “creeping threat”.

Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander demonstrated his shallowness when he described the Greens as a “one policy party”. How Labour activists from Brighton and Hove must have cringed at this. Any reasonably minded person will acknowledge that the Greens have a range of policies, something that marks the Greens from their predecessor, the Ecology Party. With ‘leaders’ such as Alexander, no wonder Labour is struggling to gain credibility.

He said that campaigners should ask the Greens “what have you actually achieved for your party”. Well Shallow Doug, they have won their first seat at Westminster, and they have gained control of their first Council. This compares to you … having been … the election organiser …. in …. 2010 ….? Remind me of the result.

But of course the Greens in Brighton and Hove have begun to implement their manifesto, and nobody who has worked closely with the likes of Bill Randall, Amy Kennedy, Geoffrey Bowden, Ben Duncan, and others will have been very impressed. Council officers have been pleasantly surprised at the leadership being shown by their focus and work rate.

Ben Page, of the polling agency, Ipsos MORI, described Green voters as typically middle aged and middle class, and more likely to have voted Labour in the past. Steady on, Ben. Middle aged? He then contradicted himself by saying that the Greens “are picking up protest votes because the Liberal Democrats are now fatally compromised by their role in the coalition.” In Brighton and Hove it is clear that there has been a move from Labour to the Greens, but it has been more than a protest vote. For some it will be a protest, for others it was tactical – the Greens being best placed to beat the Tories in Brighton Pavilion. But for many, it allowed them to vote with their conscience, for a party that stands for what the Labour used to stand for, and a party without the legacy of Iraq and Afghanistan. No matter how much Labour activists deny this, it remains a significant factor in the Greens’ rise.

But the Boy Douglas is right when he describes the Greens as a “creeping threat”. I prefer the description coined by Luke Walter (who I have previously described as the best councillor Brighton and Hove doesn’t have … yet). Luke described it as a “Green tide” that started in town centre wards where the Greens had their early success but as they settled down and had families, moved to outlying wards such as Hollingdean and Stanmer and Withdene, where they Greens picked up 3 of the 6 seats available.

The most sensible comment came from Brighton Labour activist, Tim Lunnon, who is a decent, thoughtful man. He said “What I don’t know about losing to the Greens has not been discovered yet.”

What Labour needs to learn is how to beat the Greens, and they won’t get closer to beating the Greens while they have ‘leaders’ like the Boy Wonder Alexander coming out with inane stupidity such as the Greens being a “one policy party”.

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The politicisation of the police

Most people, myself included, would say that in most respects, the police in Brighton and Hove, led by the dedicated and impressive Chief Superintendent Graham Bartlett, do a fine job. They are engaged with the community and responses to individual cases are good.

However, there is a growing unease about an aspect of policing that runs counter to that – the policing of political protest. Here there appears to be a different approach, and different leadership.

The policing of the Topshop / Topman protest, that led to the arrest and subsequent prosecution of nine protesters, is a case in point. The protesters were acquitted on most changes although five were found guilty of recklessly damaging two mannequins which had been knocked over as the protesters had entered a window display where they glued their hands to the window. All were cleared of damaging the windows.

Those found guilty were given a conditional discharge and ordered to pay £200 towards prosecution costs. The total cost, excluding the policing of the demonstration, is estimated to have been £100,000.

The protest, which was held on December 4th last year, was aimed at drawing attention to tax avoidance by the owners of Topshop / Topman and To cuts to public expenditure. The defence given was that of ‘lawful excuse’, the same defence used by Smash EDO demonstrators at a trial last year. They had been arrested for causing £187,000 damage at the EDO MBM factory in Brighton last year. The jury decided that they had acted, with an honest and reasonable belief, to prevent war crimes being committed in Gaza.

Caroline Lucas MP (Brighton Pavilion) gave evidence in support of the defendants. Hove MP Mike Weatherley condemned Ms Lucas for giving this evidence, as well as condemning the protesters. He told the Brighton Argus: “I don’t consider the prosecution was a waste of public money and condemn their actions. It is not helpful when protesters are sending a message to the world that people can take action such as this and get away with it on a technicality. They were there to cause trouble and disruption to the retail environment.”

It is important to remember that they were all found not guilty on the main charge of causing damage to the window. Their defence was accepted. And picking up on a technicality of Mr Weatherley’s own protest, much tax avoidance (not illegal itself as opposed to tax avoidance) is often based on a technicality identified by highly paid tax lawyers and accountants.

But going back to policing, Sussex Police seem to have no problem in heavy-handed policing of demonstrations including the ‘kettling’ of young teenagers on student fees and EMA (Education Maintenance Allowance) demonstrations, and on anti-EDL (English Defence League) counter-demonstrations. The contrast between day to day policing and the policing of demonstrations are so contrasting one has to ask whether Graham Bartlett, a very decent man in every way, is removed from authority on these occasions.

Policing has always been politicised, but rarely more so than when policing political demonstrations. I conclude with an anecdote told to me by a prominent member of the Brighton and Hove community who was in Brighton Station during one of the EDL demonstrations. He and a row of police officers saw an EDL member giving nazi salutes and shouting abuse at what appeared to be a couple of Japanese tourists who were apparently showing fear and distress. When challenged why the EDL member had not been arrested or even spoken to, one police officer, who had witnessed the incident, said of the EDL group: “They’ve been as good as gold. It’s the other ones who cause the trouble.” I suspect the Japanese couple might disagree and it is unlikely that they will return to Brighton.

As with most things, your reputation is often only as strong as your weakest link.

Oh dear, Ed. You’re making a mess even of your own feeble Big Idea

Further to my post this morning, Ed Miliband has exacerbated his feeble ‘Big Idea’ by refusing to confirm that the £6,000 student fee would be a manifesto commitment, nor would he confirm that £6,000 would be the maximum that Labour would support. His performance on the Andrew Marr programme will have hardly inspired. Watch it here if you can bear it.

I supported Ed Miliband for the leadership, and still believe that David Miliband would have been a disaster. David is, and always will be, associated with the worst aspects of Blairism. The Tories are keen on him for one or possible two reasons – he is more right wing that Ed, and there are sufficient suspicions about his record in office to allow him to be truly independent. The problem with Ed, he may have a cleaner past, but he is falling over himself to appear safe and to compromise.

On the other hand, Harriet Harman, Ed Balls or Yvette Cooper …?

Ed Miliband gets it so wrong on his ‘Big Idea’

Labour leader Ed Miliband has come up with a brilliant ‘Big Idea’ for the Labour Party – under Labour you won’t be better off than under the Tories, you will just be less worse off.

What is this Big Idea? It is his announcement to lower the cap on student tuition fees to £6,000 a year, down from the current £9,000 cap. It would be partly funded by higher interest on student loans for graduates earning more than £65,000 a year.

What does Ed think the reaction will be. It was Labour who brought us tuition fees, it was Labour who originally increased them to £3,000, and now he thinks people will flock back if Labour are regressive but just not as regressive as the Tories!

Of course a £3,000 reduction will help those with children at university, but it is hardly the promise of a radical government. The debate in Labour and in the media is still focused on which Miliband is right for Labour. How about a debate on the right policies?

The Brighton & Hove Budget 2012 – where clear political battle lines will be drawn

The Green administration in Brighton and Hove has announced that Council Tax in the City is to go up be about 3.5% in each of the next three years, or 10% over 3 years.

However, the People’s Geoff, (Tory Leader Geoffrey Theobald) said in a communication with this Humble Blogger that he thinks “residents will be concerned”. He said: “I find it quite irresponsible that the Greens are planning these large increases, for the next 3 years, at such an early stage in their administration”. He said that the Tories’ “first priority was always to look for savings in back office functions before ever turning to the council tax payer.”

Inevitably, as I warned last week, the Tories have raised the issue of the new head of media relations, as well as the decision to taking on the management of the Council’s downland estate.

I think Geoffrey Theobald is being a bit disingenuous. After all, the council tax freeze last year, indeed much of the budget set in the dying days of the Tory administration, was a decisive …. deferring of difficult decisions until this coming year’s budget.

A 3.5% increase is significantly less that the rate of inflation which is running at the moment at about 5%.

Council Leader Bill Randall has said his Green administration’s aim is to “protect front line services which support the city’s most vulnerable people.”

When it comes to setting a budget, it is clear that 23 Greens will vote one way, 18 Conservatives another, leaving the ultimate decision in the hands of Labour councillors. The 13 Labour councillors are in a tricky position. After they have put forward their token amendments which will have no chance of being agreed, they will either have to support the Conservatives’ opposition (and lose further credibility in the City) or support the Green’s budget (which will frustrate them and Labour activists who continue to see the Greens locally as their main opponents).

Of course Labour could abstain, thereby allowing the Green budget to be set. But an abstention would beg the question: what is the point of Labour councillors in Brighton?

The Greens are inviting criticism with the recruitment of a head of media relations

The Green-controlled Brighton and Hove City Council is seeking to recruit a new head of media relations on the salary of £43,000 per annum, which the Council says is “essential” for dealing with the 24-hour media environment.

Opposition councillors have been quick to react. Opposition leader, Conservative Councillor Geoffrey Theobald said: “The Greens spend a lot of their time lecturing us about the so-called detrimental impact of Government cuts to frontline
services, so it is frankly pretty outrageous, not to say hypocritical, for them to be recruiting to a highly paid non-frontline media job at this time. This looks even worse when you consider that the whole communications department is expected to be over budget by anything up to a third of a million pounds this year. If they were in the private sector
they would have gone bust long ago!”

I am not opposed to employing those with expertise to do specific pieces of work, but this recruitment is inviting a backlash against the Green administration, particularly at this time. One can already begin to hear the refrain of opposition councillors when any cut is proposed as part of next year’s budget: “is media lations more important than a social worker / school teacher / gardener / grant to a community group / etc.”

Now such comparisons aren’t quite fair. A large complex organisation such as a local authority, and particularly one with a profile such as that in Brighton and Hove, does need to communicate with its citizens as well as respond to ever-increasing demands from the traditional media.

Is £43,000 the right salary? Not being an expert in these matters, I imagine it is probably in the right region for the market. What is the right salary? What is more important, a Council’s media reputation or safeguarding of children? I doubt many social workers are paid £43,000!

(What is the appropriate remuneration for your humble Blogger? If each of my readers (Warren, Chris, Grizzly and Lady Everton) paid £1 per annum I would be ….. Let me work this out ….. £3 better off – Grizzly wouldn’t pay: spends all her hard-earned cash on Megadeath and Slayer).

I don’t criticise the Council for recruiting to this post. I would, however, urge caution. Let the new head of media relations concentrate wholly on delivery, and avoid politics and strategy. If bins aren’t empties, explain why. If a decision is made to introduce fortnightly collections (it is not being proposed), leave it to the politicians to explain.

For their part, councillors should become far more hands off. Set direction, policy, etc., but avoid anything to do with delivery. And if things aren’t right with delivery, let the head of department, one of the four super directors, even the Chief Executive, explain why. After all, many of them are paid well in excess of the £43,000 proposed for this new post, and well in excess of the very modest payments made to councillors.

Mary Mears and Caroline Lucas win national awards

Former Tory leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, Mary Mears, and Brighton Pavilion member of parliament, Caroline Lucas, have won prestigious national awards. It would have been something had it been a joint award for co-operation across the party divide, but that was not the case.

Mary Mears is the ‘Local Government Personality of the Year’ at the Scottish Widows and Dods Women in Public Life Awards.

Caroline Lucas was voted MP of the Year. She was up against Labour’s Kate Hoey and Tory Treasury Minister Justine Greening.

Congratulations to both. Both awards are well deserved. As you know, I am an admirer of both Mary and Caroline. Sadly, your humble Blogger’s efforts were not recognised at yet another awards ceremony. I will just have to comfort myself with the love and affection from my four readers, including the Grizzly One.