Mike Weatherley and Alex Phillips: Eyes on 2015

Of the 200 most recent emails waiting in my inbox (brightonpoliticsblogger@googlemail.com), 58 were from Mike Weatherley, or rather from Michael Ireland, Robert Nemeth and Rachael Bates who all work for the MP for Hove.

Mike, with an eye on 2015, is clearly not taking any chances. The issues he has been raising are no doubt very close to his heart but, co-incidentally, they are issues that would appeal to a wide cross-section of his constituents. These issues range from prisoners’ bank accounts (the liberal vote), drugs (law and order, perhaps?), gay marriage (a bit obvious, that one), stem cell research (scientific progressives), VAT on electronic books, newspapers, etc. (all the geeks in town), and a climate change project (will he get The Dowager, Lady Everton’s vote with that one?).

Having looked at Lady Everton’s Tweets for the past few weeks, she seems to be here, there and everywhere, quietly going about her business, building a solid base for herself, and organising more than her fair share of Hen Do’s. Could it be that May 2015 might see a head to head between The People’s Mike and Lady Everton? It would make a very interesting contest given that the new Brighton Pavilion and Hove will be a boring one-horse race. Brighton and Hove North, on the other hand, will be fascinating, not least should the Greens pick up several additional seats, including Luke Walter winning the seat of retiring (though not shy) Jeane Lepper (a worthy successor to a fine councillor).

But back to the People’s Mike, while he shows a populist touch (get up close and personal to Alice Cooper, for goodness sake), he seems to have made a couple of gaffs in the last week. First, his high profile threat to rebel on Europe came to nothing. (Lady Everton is very pro-Europe, I believe, although believes that the UK’s membership should be renegotiated).

And now Mike has offered to personally evict the the St Paul’s Catherdral protesters @OccupyLSX. What is amazing about the St. Paul’s protesters is the very wide support they seem to be getting, not least from within the churches. At Rochester Cathedral on Sunday morning, for example, when the preacher criticised the closure of St. Paul’s, the congregation applauded. Mike is backing the wrong horse on this one. Today Mike said : “Quite simply, long-term camping in public spaces as a form of protest is unacceptable. Great thinkers and leaders did not find solutions to the world’s problems by lying around in public parks and squares.” I think Mike will find that two of the world’s greatest thinkers and leaders did lie around, one in simpleloin cloth and on hunger strike – and brought down Britain’s rule in India; the other in his prison cell, refusing to be released on anything but his own terms which lead to the downfall of apartheid South Africa.

It would be good to hear Mike criticise bankers’ greed, but then he would have to criticise capitalism. He is as likely to do that as Lady Everton is to down a steak and kidney pie.

Advertisements

Mike Weatherley and Caroline Lucas will both be voting for a referendum on Europe

Mike Weatherley, the MP for Hove, is one of 66 MPs named in an article in the Times who are supporting a motion calling for a referendum on Europe. Mike is not quite a full-blown Eurosceptic. He said: “The vote on Monday, triggered by the people requesting a debate via the e-petition, will hopefully be the start of a long overdue debate. I have supported the call for an extended debate which will hopefully end up with us renegotiating our terms with Europe.”
 
The motion currently reads: “This House calls upon the Government to introduce a Bill in the next session of Parliament to provide for the holding of a national referendum on whether the UK should: (a) remain a member of the EU on the current terms; (b) leave the EU; (c) renegotiate the terms of its membership in order to create a new relationship based on trade and co-operation.”

Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion, has tabled her own amendment which gives a wider renegotiation of the UK’s membership of the EU as an option.

Her amendment seeks “to build support for radical reform of the EU, increasing its transparency and accountability, refocusing its objectives on co-operation and environmental sustainability rather than competition and free trade, and enabling member states to exercise greater control over their own economies.”

Ms Lucas said: “I support a referendum on our membership of the EU because I am pro-democracy, not because I’m anti-EU – and because I want to see a radical reform of the way Europe operates. The EU has the potential to spread peace and make our economies more sustainable, and to promote democracy and human rights, at home and throughout the world. But it must urgently change direction, away from an obsessive focus on competition and free trade and towards placing genuine co-operation and environmental sustainability at its heart.”

If Mike was able to support Caroline’s amendment it would be well received in Brighton and in Hove. Most people would agree that the current arrangement is bonkers and the on-going crisis in the Eurozone (a separate but related issue) shows that an arrangement based on free trade and competition is flawed. Europe has a choice: continue as we are and see our living standards continue to decline while bankers profit, or co-operation and sustainability.

It would be great if Laour MPs could also support Caroline’s amendment. Unfortunately, Ed Miliband is requiring his MPs to vote against a referendum and to line up alongside David Cameron. Could someone remind me, what is the point of an Opposition?

Greens must make the most of their backbenchers

Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. But can this be said to apply to the Greens who now control Brighton and Hove City Council? 150 days or so since getting the keys to the Town Hall, the Greens have been accused of selling out.

It is rumoured that a Green councillor has asked that the use “sustainable” be used rather than the word “green” in Council reports and publications because the word “green” is too political.

I don’t know if that is true, but the Greens are now entering the most challenging period of the administration – their first budget.

Tory leader Geoffrey Theobald sent me a statement in which he said the new administration was being “green” as in being “inexperienced … in their approach to running the council so far”. He wrote: “u-turns on issues such as the work programme contract, building on Toad’s Hole Valley and the ‘meat-free Monday’s initiatives show that they have got a long way to go, however they chose to label it.”

The reality, though, is that the ups and downs of the new administration is not much different from the first 5 months of any new administration. There have been no u-turns on any matter of substance. And neither the Tories or Labour have managed to lay a decent glove on the Greens. None of this is a surprise. Where the real battle will commence is the budget.

Most Green Cabinet members have been impressive in getting out and about and engaging with the business, third sector and community groups. Green leader, Bill Randall, in particular, has impressed the business community, and the feedback from the voluntary and community sectors has been very positive.

But for the Greens to continue to thrive they need to think about the role of backbenchers. Cabinet members and a single MP cannot, alone, carry the party and help maintain the Big M, momentum. They are likely to be the ones who will drawn negative coverage when the cuts are announced and implemented. Unlike other parties, the Greens are more likely to tolerate dissent in their ranks. Backbenchers can have a constructive role in presenting the Greens as a party of hope and aspiration while the Cabinet members take the flack for the inevitable compromises that they will have to take.

The names of a couple of Cabinet members have been suggested to me as possible candidates to take on Mike Weatherley. If the election was this week I would think that they would not be unreasonable choices. But after the budget the responsibility for being candidate must pass to a backbencher.

But part of the problem for the Greens, with one or two exceptions, their backbenchers (particularly newly elected ones) are largely invisible. To effectively challenge Weatherley in Hove, and more so in North Brighton and Hove, a lot more is needed from backbenchers who are needed as the eyes and ears of the Party.

It is time to stop, once and for all, the nonsense of local council’s ‘Standards Committees’

I have written before about the Standards system in local government, how undemocratic it is that a panel made up of opposition councillors and non-elected individuals can sit in judgement on elected councillors, even depriving the electorate of one of their representatives.

This is not a party political issue, and I have rallied to the defence of both Green councillor Jason Kitcat and the Matriarch of Hangleton and Knoll, Dawn Barnett.  Not just that, but future Tory Leader, Grant Shapps, tweeted in support of Jason!  Jason was accused of posting selected extracts of video from council meetings featuring Tory councillor Geoffrey Theobald.  It must be stated that the People’s Geoffrey did not support the actions taken by one of his fellow Conservatives.

The Matriarch, it has been reported, was referred to the Standards Committee for handing out leaflets directing travellers camped in her ward to open spaces in wards held by Green councillors.  While I do not like the tone of much of the anti-traveller debate, I thought that what the Matriarch did was imaginative touched with humour.  She made her point very well.  It was rumoured that it was a Green councillor who made that referral but I am yet to see any firm evidence to confirm this. I have previously written about Dawn’s “sheer cheek”.

Jason’s case was thrown out while Dawn’s has gone quiet (although I may have missed developments during my two month sabbatical in Italy over the summer.

The latest fiasco relates to Ben Duncan, the Green councillor for Queens Park, cabinet member for public protection and representative of Brighton and Hove City Council on the Sussex Police Authority.  An anonymous complaint was made against him about posts on his blog and for attending various demonstrations.  The investigation took over a year and found that he had done nothing wrong.  I have previously posted on Ben Duncan’s case.

Quoted in the Argus he said it was wrong for standards procedures to be used to complain about people’s opinions.  “It is an abuse of the system and a waste of public money. This must have cost thousands of pounds. The standards board should be used to tackle allegations of real wrongdoing. It is not just that there is nothing wrong with expressing an opinion on policing, you could say if you’re not doing that you’re not doing the job properly.”

The implication of this case, more so that the cases of Jason and The Matriarch, would have been more sinister had it been found that Ben had been in the wrong. It would mean that a councillor could not be involved in certain activities, in this case, anti-way activities.  It would have meant that only those with more conventional views would be allowed to serve on the Police Authority.  What would be the point of that? 

I recall a Conservative councillor once saying to me that he wished that Labour wouldn’t be so political on the Council, that the Conservatives were apolitical in local government!  I got it, you are only political if you disagreed with the status quo.  Thank goodness for The Boy David, his mate Boy George and Little Nick, standing up for the status quo, and doing it, if I may say so, very well indeed.

New Media and Brighton and Hove City Councillors: Welcome to the 21st Century

Brighton and Hove City Council have finally arrived into the age of new media. Ignoring the debate about the new head of media relations, councillors are now allowed to tweet and send emails from the Council chamber as a way of encouraging greater interaction between politicians and the public.

(Incidently, my recent post on the proposed media relations post was criticised by Labour councillor Craig Turton who was quite right when he said “Frankly, BPB this is a lazy posting not worthy of your usual insight.”)

Central Services cabinet member Jason Kitcat has said that this innovation will bring the Council into the 21st century. He said: “Despite the current guidelines, there are members from all parties who are catching up on emails in the Chamber. At the moment live feedback is limited to the small number of people in the public gallery.”

Conservative councillor Mary Mears has long opposed the change. She was quoted by the Argus as saying: “I still do not support it. I believe we are there to represent the city and should be concentrating on what is going on rather than political backstabbing while the meeting is going on.”

Labour and Co-op councillor, active Twitter-user Warren Morgan responded by saying: “Councillors should be focused on the debate but most are quite capable of listening and at the same time tweeting or researching the issue under discussion via the web on their mobile.”

Warren’s statement begs the question: “If most councillors are capable of multi-tasking, who are those who are not capable …?”

So we can all expect more interaction from our politicians which is something I welcome. I personally may not need to attend future council meetings … !

Chuck Vere is not an invisible woman in politics

The Tory Party began their conference in Manchester today.  And one of the themes for the week will be the role of women in the Tory Party.  In fact, in today’s Sunday Times, David Cameron apologised to women for his behaviour in the past which had been misunderstood.  New Man Cam admitted making a ‘terrible mistake’ in parliament by using words that could have been interpreted as being sexist – the “Calm down, dear” slight to Maria Eagle and the “frustrated” innuendo towards Nadine Dorries.  (If you want to line Murdoch’s pocket, you can read the article behind this paywall).

Invisible Women

Invisible Women in Politics

I saw this cartoon recently and it made me think that this is how it has been for several generations in all major parties.  Hopefully, though, this is now changing.  Labour in Brighton and Hove has had Gill Mitchell as its leader for almost 5 years, the former Conservative Leader of the Council was Mary Mears, and all four candidates from the major parties at the last general election in Brighton Pavilion were women.

Which brings me on to one of my favourite Tory women of all time, the universally popular Charlotte Vere.  Chuck managed to find a way to upset so many of her opponents in Brighton Pavilion, but she was nevertheless an awesome candidate.  I am sorry she moved onwards and upwards following her defeat.  Brighton is a poorer place without her.  After her defeat she was a leading light in the very successful “No” campaign against the pathetic Lib Dem proposals for voting reform. No doubt she will get a safe(r) seat at the next general election and will prove to be a very effective Member of Parliament (regardless of what you think of her politics).

Chuck is part of a new breed of  Tory Ladies, feisty and independent.  And we should recognise that the Conservative Party has changed.  Gone are the days when (as quoted yesterday in the Guardian profile of another feisty, independent Tory woman, Louise Mensch) an aspiring Tory candidate was asked what her husband would do for sex if she was away in London for 3 nights each week.

Chuck’s latest recognition comes in a profile in the Huffington Postwhich begins “Charlotte Vere is not a feminist, thank you very much. The former Conservative candidate and mother-of-two last shaved her armpits “this morning” and she’s definitely wearing a bra.”  Too much information already, but this profile, which has the serious intent of exploring the Conservative Party’s (and specifically David Cameron’s) approach to women. Chuck is quoted as saying: “The Prime Minister needs to change policy urgently and apologise for what he has been doing not just what he’s been saying.”

Chuck has always been something of an Action Woman and has now set up Women On, a new think tank, an “independent, non-partisan think tank that aims to transform the debate around women. Women On … researches the issues facing women today, and promotes ideas and policies which enable all women to reach their full potential – economically, socially, culturally and politically.”

I wish her well (although I think it is a shame she treats the word ‘feminism’ as a dirty word).  I hope that she can link with other women who are interested in seeing an end to the “Miss Triggs syndrome” which, after all, is as relevant today even if it is done far more subtly!