State of the City – Labour

Good and bad things come in threes, so they say. Before my summer sojourn, there was a report entitled ‘State of the City’ prepared by the City Council, loaded with facts and figures. It is well worth a read. Then there was a debate, ‘State of the City’, organised by the other BHCC, the Brighton and Hove Chamber of Commerce, with speakers including Bill Randall, Simon Fanshawe and Roger French.

And now I present the Brighton Politics ‘State of the City’ a review of the political fortunes.

Before I went away I rather tongue in cheek suggested that the top politicians in the City were John Barradell and the Fab Four Super Directors for surviving the change in administration. And still they remain in post and likely to remain so. Here is what I really think.

Starting today with Labour, I have been impressed, as always, with the leadership and determination displayed by the East End ‘Family’. Gill Mitchell has held the group together as they have morphed from being the Labour Group to becoming the Labour and Co-operative Group. Warren Morgan and Craig Turton continue with their best Mitchell Brothers impression, and I for one am determined not to get on the wrong side of them.

Some of the newly elected councillors, not least those in Hove, (Penny Gilbey and Anne Pissadirou), have shown early promise, Penny following in the footsteps of her father, the late George Humphrey, and Anne active in Wish Ward. (She will have to work consistently hard as Wish is now seen as a natural Green target in 2015). A Labour activist that continues to impress is Caroline Penn, on Twitter as @ThePennyDrops – worth following.

But what Labour needs to do locally (because Ed Milliband isn’t doing it for them nationally) is capture the imagination of the people of Brighton and Hove. Labour needs a ‘Big Idea’ that will be seen to be transformational for the City.

Before the local elections, Warren Morgan kept emphasising that Labour was gaining in wards across the City. They may have polled well overall, but they were still a million miles away from forming an administration. If their Big Idea is to wait for the Greens to screw up, they will remain out of power of another decade or more. The Tories are as likely to benefit from a loss of support for the Greens than Labour is.

But the problem for Labour is that it has, since the time of Kinnock, looked almost exclusively to its leader for salvation. But politics has moved on and the electorate are looking for something new, and it isn’t whether Ed or brother David is the one to lead Labour into the next election. Can Labour move beyond the internecine squabbles of recent years? I doubt it in the short term.

What can Labour do that will turn the party’s fortunes around? Perhaps it needs to build a mass base, at it had in the 1980’s before the Kinnockites took over the asylum. Slowly and surely, the life blood was drained from the party. The Party could do worse than engaging once again with those who brought it success, left and right alike – Joyce Edmond Smith, Richard Stanton, Steve Bassam, Gill Sweeting, Andy Winter, etc. Their campaigning ability, their ability to engage with the electorate, is what the Party needs right now.

But there remain elements within the Labour Party that sees activists as a threat. It is fine to have ‘dependable’ people turning out to deliver leaflets, help with telephone banks, and occasionally knock on doors. But they shouldn’t get above and beyond themselves, and certainly should never question the leadership, locally or nationally.

Perhaps I look back on days that cannot be relived and successes that cannot be repeated. This is where I will incurr the wrath of Morgan and Turton. The Greens are the ones with the campaigning ability, the ones who have captured the imagination, and who still enjoy the Big Mo – momentum.

Labour has to decide on its parliamentary candidates in the not too distant future, and which should be all-women shortlists. Conventional wisdom has it that boundary changes will see Labour’s chances erode further in Brighton Kemptown. Brighton Pavilion will be a two-way fight between the Greens and the Tories, leaving Hove as its best chance. The Party leadership looks after its own and has ensured that Hove does not have an all-women shortlist, opening the way for Simon Burgess to become the candidate.

And here again, Labour will get it wrong. As I have always said, Simon is a decent, hard-working type who is an asset to Labour, working in a support role. There are few better. But as a candidate, in what could be a three-way marginal between Mike Weatherley, a Green (particularly a dynamic woman candidate) and Labour, he would be destined to be an also ran.

Perhaps Labour locally will need a further drubbing at the polls before it moves on and finds candidates who can match the appeal of Caroline Lucas and whoever the Greens field in Hove. I have an insight who that might be, and Labour will have little chance of matching her appeal.

14 Responses

  1. Why do you think Mr Burgess is standing in Hove?

    • Mr Fitch, are you saying Simon Burgess is not, definitely not, seeking to stand in Hove. Everything I have heard points to him wanting to stand and that he is being supported by the Party machinery. BPB

  2. Re Labour selections. Kemptown is an all woman shortlist. No plans to select Pavilion any time soon. You need new spies in Hove.

  3. I am surprised that the Blogger disappeared during the summer, which has been a very interesting time locally, not least in Hove. As I said earlier in the year, I do not want to post too much here as I was previously highlighted as frequent commentator. But I do remain flabbergasted that the Tories’ Tony Janio marched up and insulted me in the dinner queue at Full Council. They never learn, do they? Look at the damage David Smith caused them.

  4. BPB certainly doesn’t need to new spies in Hove. Unless something has changed dramatically, it’s Simon Burgess (Labour needs new local whips to stop their senior party members letting cats out the bag).

    As for the Green candidate, yes BPB you are thinking along the right lines.

  5. I completely agree that Labour needs to have a broad, engaged and involved activist base and I haven’t found anyone inside Labour who doesn’t share that view. Above all we need to listen to and speak to the public – which is exactly what we have been doing and did yesterday with our four stalls throughout the City raising awareness and getting people to sign our petition against the Health and Social Care Bill. BTW – you’re info on Labour’s Hove selection is wrong and surely everyone knows by now that Alex will be the Green candidate?

  6. Burgess told me he is standing in Hove..and I would think Alex Philips is now in line to be the Green candidate, music to Mr Weatherley’s heavy metal tuned lugs as they’ll split the left wing vote handing the seat to Mike.
    Warren who I hear is to adopt a humor approach in life should stand in East Brighton & Lewes, and by the way Warren never turned up to race dumper trucks with me in Whitehawk Way.

  7. Some strange stuff here from the blogger on the past fortunes of Labour in the city, which were apparently all fine and dandy until ‘the Kinnockites took over the asylum’. Labour didn’t take control of Brighton council (for the first time ever) until 1985 or 6, by which time Kinnock was already party leader, and the parliamentary seats didn’t turn red (or blueish pink) until Blair’s time. The idea that Labour Briefing or Militant were a great electoral success is in Brighton is very wrong, though they were certainly keen activists.

    Fair point about Labour needing a big idea, locally and nationally. The recent stuff about community engagement could be start.

    As for the Hove parliamentary seat, I am not the only person outside the Labour hardcore to rate Simon Burgess pretty highly. For the Greens, even though the blogger clearly fancies Alex Phillips something rotten, it may be wise for him to consider other options that the party members could have in the selection process – Chris Hawtree, Ian Davey and Ruth Buckley, who topped the poll in Goldsmid. And that’s just among the current councillors – I reckon it could be hard fought.

    For myself, I will be voting for whoever will best placed to give Mr Weatherley more time with his Megadeth albums. That’s probably going to be Labour, especially if the Green council do something to alienate the voters in the meantime – and that could be through something not of their own making. Events, dear boy, events.

  8. Clive states he’l vote for the best placed anti-Tory. I suspect a big percentage of folk will think likewise and a return to tactical voting seems very likely in Hove.The candidate able to make the best presentation, publicity, momentum and organisation will achieve this and Alex Phillips is certainly the best placed and most photogenic.

    Clive also seems to forget Labour won Kemptown in 1964 and 1966 and nearly took the Council in 1972, so Labour strength in the City predates the ’80s. Past glory won’t however win in the future, in an age of a soft ‘progressive’ vote comprising Libs, Lab and Greens, that is probably willing to float and coalesce around any best-placed challenger-once identified.

    Labour’s backbone in the past was the trade union movement, an emasculated creature now. The Labour vote is therefore ‘soft’ and for the taking, unfortunately.

    If the General Election were now, the Lib vote in Hove would collapse and go over to the Greens. Whether even Alex Phillips can win Hove might depend on the perception of Greenism in power in the City.

    • Zombie: quite right, I forgot about Dennis Hobden and his 60s Kemptown wins. But I wasn’t seeking to imply that Labour wasn’t a force in the city pre-Kinnock – just that it wasn’t the dominant one.

      Right too about the ‘left’ vote being very mobile – I was told that the Lib Dems ‘won’ Goldsmid in 2010 – amazing, considering the party’s performance in the ward in local elections.

      On candidate selection, it might be a pious hope, but it would be nice if being photogenic wasn’t the only consideration in play. Of all the parties, I would expect the Greens to be the likeliest to share that view.

  9. Too much here to take issue with, particularly the Hove selection prediction. Sure you want to stake your reputation on that BPB?

  10. There is an need for me to step in to settle inaccurate statements here. I have said since the general election that I was unlikely to seek selection as the Labour candidate in Kemptown or Hove, but I didn’t want to rule it out prematurely.

    However the time came some months ago to tell members, and some politicians of other parties who asked, that I had made the decision not to seek selection at this time. This is widely known amongst local members and potential candidates nationally. Considering that and the fact that applications have not only closed and long-listing has already taken place I don’t know how people who claim to be informed can keep saying here that I will be the Hove candidate.

    Obviously things are all up in the air now with the boundary changes, my sympathy to the potential candidates who have already invested a lot of effort into the process, I wish them well and they will get my full support.
    Simon Burgess


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