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”.

28 Responses

  1. Oh Christ, really?

    Throughout my involvement with Labour in Brighton (for clarification, I’m still Labour, but having finished university I’m no longer in Brighton) it was an ongoing issue that the central party wouldn’t take the Greens seriously. We had no support on how to fight the Greens (whatever your opinion on them, the Greens are *not* extremist parties, so advice and strategies applying to the likes of the BNP are not appropriate) and were left to come up with our own methods.

    It seems that central party are still just as clueless. I can only hope that some of the promising young activists (like Mr Lunnon) will move up the party quickly, and they can take some of their bountiful experience with them.

  2. Probably the best advice for Labour activists with a conscience would be ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ …

    The Greens in Brighton have many ex-Labour activists in their ranks, including Bill Randall himself.

  3. An ex-Labour councillor in London recently admitted to me that he believed Tony Blair was a war criminal, and was secretly very pleased to see Caroline Lucas elected in Brighton. But his tribal loyalty to Labour is such that he just can’t bring himself to leave the party he joined as a teenager. There are many in the Labour party with those kind of divided loyalties, including it would seem the Blogger him/herself.

    • Absolutely correct, Green Dad. It is a struggle. I can, and have, voted Green and Labour in recent elections. I will continue to share my vote around depending on individual candidates and who is most likely to beat the Tories. I was at an event the other week with a few current and many former Labour activists, most hanging on in there in the Labour Party. They remain members and supports for sentimental and tribal reasons. Two or three admitted voting for Green candidates in local elections, and several more expressed admiration for Caroline Lucas and having voted for her. BPB

    • I wonder if you heard the cheer that went up when Ed Miliband said he wasn’t Blair?

      As Harris has said below, not all of the Labour Party are Tony-loving blairites. It’s a very broad church.

      • Trouble is that the likes of Miliband junior would like us all to forget about Iraq and move on. When you’re dealing with the ultimate cirme that doesn’t quite cut it.

        When the Labour Party is ready to confront the full magnitude of what has been done in its name, and pursue those responsible accordingly, we can talk about a new era.

      • Agree Labour certainly is a broad church. When I was on the council, Labour were a minority administration. I was struck by how much closer to the Tories most of them were (one or two notable exceptions, of course!) than the Greens, often relying on Conservative councillors for votes.

        The Labour Right locally and nationally, such as munitions industry public affairs lobbyist Luke Akehurst who I understand chaired that Labour Liverpool meeting on the Greens , seem so conservative they are closer to the moderate wing of the Tories. Some people seem to think most Labour and Green activists are pretty much the same in overall outlook but that’s generally not true. It may be true for Labour-Green wavering voters, but it’s not the case with activists.
        There’s a broad flank of folks in Labour who were quite happy to defend the Iraq war, Labour’s alliance with big business, erosion of civil liberties and privatisation of public services. Many activists I know in the Greens left Labour because of these (to us) uncomfortable bed fellows.

  4. As you know BPB I am much to the left of my party, and am very proud to be labour. The Greens have an appeal its obvious, but the reason the LP still has so many members in Brighton who are fighting the good fight is not because they are all Tony Lovers. It’s because our party was based upon fairness, it was formed by hard working trade unionists.

    I was speaking to a socialist party member the other day and when we asked him “why not join the Greens, you are so similar” he replied “its true we are very similar but the Greens are not a working class movement, they are middle classes blah blah ect” the usual jargon. I guess thats the reason us lefties will not leave labour and join the Greens (in response to Mr Green Dad’s comment with “if you cant beat em join em”). It is true Tony did us a lot of damage and we (I) am furious about Iraq.

    Its strange but I always get this image that people in the Greens look at us all as War lovin right wingers… we really are not.

    Anyway, I know perfectly well how to beat the Greens

  5. Really BPB? You’re retailing a couple of lines from Alexander’s lengthy, insightful and cogent analysis – I can only assume that your informant, sat as she was as far as it was possible to be from the panel without being outside, perhaps missed it due to the admittedly clattery acoustics. Very little of that analysis focused on what or who the Greens are, instead exploring what we as a party need to do in countering them and other small parties. It’s not unreasonable for a political party to discuss internally how to fight elections against the Greens or anybody else.

    As for your depiction of Labour activists ‘hanging on in’ and only remaining in the party for tribal and sentimental reasons – this bears no resemblance what I have seen over the last 18 months since I became involved; rather, the activists in Brighton and Hove, bolstered by many new faces, are committed, enthusiastic and excited about the challenge of rebuilding our party in the city and its surroundings – a process begun by Brighton & Hove Labour well in advance of this week’s near-unanimous acceptance of Refounding Labour, yet entirely in tune with its aims.

  6. Would you care to share your strategy Harris?

    My point was that most ordinary Labour members are NOT war-loving right-wingers, but are in a party that has long been led by those far to the right of them (even Ed Miliband couldn’t resist a little dog-whistle attack on benefit claimants, in a desperate attempt to placate the right-wing media). They might therefore want to consider joining the Greens, where they would find themselves more at home. Of course the same also applies to LibDem members…

    • Notwithstanding my earlier comments regarding the commitment of our activists, the simple reason why Labour members tend to resist the urge to join the Greens is that the Labour party remains the only party with both the desire and the ability to implement policies founded on social justice as a national, majority government. Even if one were to accept the doubtful premise that the Greens will become sufficiently successful to replace us in that position I don’t think the country can afford to wait the decades that they would need to do so.

  7. Too harsh on Labour as usual.

    13 years in government means you set yourself up for criticism. I have campaigned with Douglas Alexander in Brighton and personallyhe didn’t strike me as as shallow and was well received on the doorstep. I for one will take on his comments that ‘Campaigners must be unyielding and fearless.’

    There is a view, which is of course of concern, that environmental issues are slipping down the agenda in such tough times and the Greens, like it or not, are seen as a ‘ one issue’ Party by many. If environmental utopia is finally achieved what next for them ? Or will it always be just out of reach ?

    Douglas Alexander also says, ‘ Labour needs to comprehensively out – campaign the Greens. As part of a strong team, I plan to do just this.

    Environmental issues are crucial, but so are many other things.

    Councillor I respect them but will fight them tooth and nail to dislodge them.

  8. I think BPB’s source might be today’s Argus article, where all the quotes used above are to be found. I don’t recall Douglas Alexander saying the Greens were a one-policy party. He recounted a conversation he had two years ago with a Brighton voter while door-knocking during the Labour Party Conference here. His point was that people switched to the Greens in 2010 for many different reasons, not just the environment.

    This post is written by someone who wasn’t at the meeting based entirely on a journalist’s incomplete recording of it, so it isn’t really a useful contribution in my view.

  9. Maybe Green Councillor Alex Philips might give her perspective of the meeting for she was there?

    By all accounts I have heard, on the grapevine, she may not have excelled herself.

  10. My apologies if I’ve misattributed the source of BPB’s information.

  11. A blog entry based on selected quotes in a brief Argus report, rather than from actually hearing what was said.(Nor did I so I won’t comment on the meeting specifically)

    If we set aside the evidence on Iraq – that it does not feature in any polls of top ten issues, that in recent elections no-one mentioned it to me on the doorstep as they had previously – and accept it is an issue some people can’t get past and which has a greater influence on their vote that say the economy or housing, then why aren’t the Greens doing better?

    Despite winning a seat in Parliament, at best they score 5% in opinion polls, YouGov’s daily poll puts them on a consistent 2%. A very significant proportion of their cllrs are in Brighton. Their presence in London authorities was rolled back in May, and despite high expectations and much work by Lady Everton they failed to win back a Camden seat from Labour a few weeks ago. In most by-elections they score between 5 and 7%.

    The Greens have done best in South East university towns – Brighton, Oxford, London, Norwich – but not so well in comparable places like Manchester where Labour are resurgent.Aside from Brighton their progress has been halted or reversed, and the Govt’s pressure on students and universities presents another potential threat.

    That is not to recognise and acknowledge their focussed success in our city and as the holding of a fringe meeting at Labour conference attests, they can be a threat where they pick up disaffected Lab/Lib Dem voters.

    Citng alleged commendation of the Green administration by council offcers is poor – it can’t be verified and no officer is going to be critical of an incumbent Administration to anyone outside the authority and in prominent roles – like you BPB.

    • Warren its strange really – once you told me that for the Greens it was all about Labour, when all along its been the other way round. First Douglas Alexander’s fringe (see below the De Havilland newsagency report filed on 28th September) and next we have the prospect of a reprise from Lord Bassam et al coming up in the Fabian Society meeting on 25th November in Brighton.

      As you and I missed this fringe, here’s the independent report on it from the De Havilland:

      Labour must improve its “emotional” offering to wavering voters while campaigning against Greens on their record of delivering change, Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander has said.

      Mr Alexander was speaking at a Labour fringe event organised by Progress. Chaired by Councillor Luke Akehurst of Labour’s National Executive Committee, the meeting also heard from Labour shadow Energy and Climate Change minister Luciana Berger and Ipsos MORI Chief Executive Ben Page.

      Beginning his remarks, Mr Alexander said that the rise of the Greens must be understood in the wider context of the decline of historic bi-polar voting and that the rise of the SNP in Scotland can be seen as part of the same process.

      The Labour policy offering on the environment, Mr Alexander said, is different to that of the Greens or those offered by NGOs such as WWF and Greenpeace. This is a consequence of Labour having a fundamental ‘governing philosophy’, while the Greens remain, he said, a “party of protest not a party of power”.

      Labour must, as a party of power, have a wider vision for society that deals with a much wider range of issues than the Greens or single-issue parties he said, urging party activists to uphold the integrity of Labour’s wider vision of society rather than retreating into issue politics.

      The challenge for Labour in fighting the Greens policy offer on the environment is, Mr Alexander contended, is how to integrate green issues into the wider governing philosophy.

      There is, Mr Alexander argued, an irreducible core of Green voters who are motivated by a deep commitment to the environment and Labour must try to contain this group while seeking to reclaim the wider pool of ‘soft’ green voters.

      Labour must out-campaign the Greens and Mr Alexander reminded activists that campaigning is a “contact sport”. Where the Greens run Local Authorities, Mr Alexander called on local parties to hold them to account over what they have achieved for their communities.
      Following contributions from the floor, Mr Alexander expanded upon his earlier comments, making six suggestions for Labour to fight the Greens.

      Firstly, Mr Alexander said that there is a fallacy on the left that voters are act rationally rather than emotionally. Our growing understanding of neuroscience, he said, is now starting to inform into how people think about politics. Rationality and emotion are not separate, binary elements and it must be understood that emotion informs rational choice, argued Mr Alexander.

      Labour can, Mr Alexander said, draw emotional strength from a sense of place and, though local parties must be unashamedly Labour, they should hold a mirror to local communities and offer a Labour embodiment of their communities’ values. When at their best, Mr Alexander contended, Caroline Lucas and Ken Livingston appear to be an embodiment of their constituencies.

      Secondly, Mr Alexander stressed the importance of candidates and personalities. Mr Alexander argued that, regardless of whether or not they were born and raised in a constituency, candidates should seek to be an authentic expression of a community and its values rather than falling into the category appearing to be an “imported elite”.
      The third suggestion concerned setting the right psychological frame for campaigns and Mr Alexander cited the example of the 2010 General Election campaign in Scotland. The Labour vote increased in 2010 and Labour had, he said, set the frame of the campaign as stopping the “return of Mrs Thatcher”.

      If voters accept a particular emotional and psychological frame and facts come along that contradict this, voters will reject the facts and not the frame, Mr Alexander argued. In upcoming elections, he said, Labour has the opportunity to marginalise the Greens and Liberal Democrats.

      Fourthly, the Mr Alexander called on activists to scrutinise Green councillors’ records locally and highlight those of poorly performing councillors in order to underline to protest voters that a Green vote is not consequence free, and attempt to leave a residue of doubt in the mind of the voter.

      The Greens must also be challenged nationally, Mr Alexander said, arguing that Caroline Lucas must not be left unchallenged in the category of ‘advocate’ and that Labour must challenger her record as an ‘agent’ of change.

      Fifthly, Mr Alexander implored local parties to produce high quality literature that is about voters rather than literature that is Labour-focused, which he rejected as “literature of entitlement”.

      Finally, Mr Alexander called for a shift in mentality that rejects the idea of a ‘safe’ Labour seat. Labour must move beyond a mentality if of just “getting out the vote”. He criticised this as a “hunter mentality”, whereby the literature is a weapon that hits the Labour voter and then the job of the party is to “drag the corpse” to the ballot box. Rather, Mr Alexander advocated a “farmer” mindset which sought to cultivate the electorate.

      Concluding his remarks, Mr Alexander called for Labour to be more self confident about its achievements over the last 13 years and said the party must make the argument that Labour is the best progressive vehicle to deliver change.

      Ben Page noted the irony that while the Greens vote is improving, polling has shown that climate change is slipping down the list of concerns for voters and that the number of climate change sceptics is increasing.

      Polling also indicates, Mr Page said, that people’s main concern regarding energy and climate change is over energy security rather than green energy.

      National surveys do not provide a sufficiently detailed profile of Green voters, said Mr Page. However the picture that does emerge suggests that they are more likely to be middle-aged, middle-class and were Labour voters in the past. Many Green voters, he noted, were unhappy with the “corporatism of Labour”.

      While Mr Page said it was unlikely that the Greens would sweep into many constituencies, he noted that the danger for Labour was that the Greens could reach a tipping point at which they become viable and emerge as a genuine opposition to Labour.

      Since the election, the Greens have been attracting more attention and Caroline Lucas, as the only Green MP, has benefitted from this attention, said Luciana Berger. However, green issues have slipped down the agenda as the Government and media have lost focus, said Ms Berger.

      Ms Berger contended that Green voters divide between those seeking a left alternative to Labour and those deeply committed to green issues. In upcoming elections, Ms Berger said, there will be many voters angry with Liberal Democrats for failing to deliver and the Greens will seek to capitalise on this.

      On fighting the Greens on policy, Ms Berger highlighted Labour’s environmental achievements while in Government, such as the Climate Change Act 2008 and the roll out of renewable energy, as well as the work of the shadow DEFRA team on the forests sell-off and the DECC shadows’ work on securing a green apprenticeship amendment to the energy bill.

      Ms Berger criticized the Government and the Greens for failing to talk about the upcoming international climate change conference in Durban, saying Labour is the only party raising the issue.
      Urging party activists to continue combating the Greens, Ms Berger contended that “if there is a vacuum, the Greens will fill it” and urged local parties to adopt an outward focus.

      Noting the work done by Ken Livingstone on the environment, Ms Berger argued that Mr Livingstone was Mayor in good times and that it is increasingly hard for local government to focus on climate change at time when cuts are so severe. Ms Berger criticized the Government for withdrawing or reducing incentives and support for green initiatives.

      • Very interesting indeed!

        All this talk of change makes me think, what change? 1p 2p 5p 10p 20p?

      • It actually sounds like a mature and enlightened discussion of why people are attracted to the Green Party, and away from Labour. Hardly worthy of the ‘stupid’ tag from our esteemed blogger. The emotional element of their appeal is crucial, as it is for Labour in its more traditional areas. In B+H there is a significant transitory, bohemian population which is not emotionally tied to very much, whether its political parties, or local services – The Green Party offers them a sense of identity and belonging. Labour in B+H offered this for a while, when they were first seeking to elect a Council and MP. The inevitable compromises of office have allowed the fragile allegiances of the unattached to go elsewhere – which will probably continue until they have to answer for their own actions.

      • I can assure you that the Lab11 fringe meetings devoted to countering the Green party comprised, and my maths isn’t great when lots of decimal places are involved, probably 0.1% or so of the total. Our main concern is as always to beat the Tories – something that on a national scale we are the only political party with the means to achieve. So no, Mr. Bowden, it isn’t all about the Greens in any imaginable way.

        We do, however, face Green challenges here and, to a lesser extent, in some other towns. As I said earlier in this thread, it’s perfectly reasonable – required, in fact – that we should discuss how to meet that challenge.The blogger seems to feel that because his personal proclivities have acquired a Greenish tinge any discussion by us of such matters must be attacked and debunked, or taken as a sign that we are running scared. The grown ups among us (including, I’d wager, most Green activists) realise that this is simply politics as usual.

  12. The Greens aren’t just a party of the SE. We have councillor groups in Kirklees, Solihull, Liverpool, Sheffield, we even have a councillor in Dennis Skinner’s constituency!

    A year a go, folks were saying we couldn’t win in Hollingdean and Stanmer because it was too working class. As many on here will note, in the recent campaign, the Greens did exceptionally well in the likes of Moulsecoomb and East Brighton with doing nowt.

    Clearly the Green appeal stretches beyond those areas we target. Green voters are dispersed throughout the city. Given the transient nature of our city, the demography is shifting and evolving and becoming more Green. Who is the typical Green voter is hard to say. I’ve come across all kinds who vote Green and for varying reasons. In Brighton and Hove atleast, we have broad appeal, as does Labour.

    From what I’ve read via Twitter and elsewhere, none of the speakers really quite grapsed the Greens. In all fairness, I don’t think we fully understand ourselves. The success has been too quick, too sudden for any of us to really provide an academic account of what has happened.

    If Labour or anyone else can provide a text book account of the Green success, please let me know. I’d be chuffed to know how we’ve done it.

  13. Interesting discussion re the secrets of the Greens’ electoral success in Brighton.

    Obviously not wanting to let any little kittens out of the bag, I’ve heard that one ward, not held currently held by the Greens and on the south eastern side of Brighton, is for the first time in the Greens’ cross hairs for the next elections 😉

    That should be a fun contest! 😉

  14. As I mentioned below an earlier topic, Lord Bassam is addressing the Fabians in Brighton soon about exterminating the Greens. So, if previous such utterances are anything to go by, that means that Green vote could go up again.

  15. BPB – this is pretty desparate stuff – you can do far better. How about reviving your ‘State of the City’ series so that we can have a discussion about the Green Party in power, and the hopes of a Lib Dem revival?

  16. “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.”

    Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you but back in 1985 the Ecology Party’s “Manifesto for a Sustainable Society” had a striking similarity to its current equivalent, including almost every one of its current policy areas. This is implied, but not detailed, here:

    You really shouldn’t believe everything the media says!

  17. I would also add to the statement that the Greens “don’t win amongst the working class” – the Green councillor we had in Manchester for a number of years was elected in Hulme, definitely one of the more working class wards of the city!

  18. Richard Lane

    96 Councillors on Manchester City Council and zero Greens. Perhaps the one previously elected in Hulme wasn’t very good?

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