The Brighton Politics Blogger’s Political Awards 2011

As the year draws to an end, it is time once again for the much sought after Brighton Politics Blogger’s Political Awards.

Team of the Year must go to the Green Party for becoming the first Green Administration in the UK. It was hard to see how that party could have followed up their achievement of having elected their first-ever Member of Parliament in 2010.

Campaigner of the Year goes to an Honorary Brightonian who was a leading campaigner in the ‘No’ campaign in the electoral reform referendum, Charlott Vere. She was hardly out of the news and made a barnstorming speech in Brighton during the referendum campaign. Chuck is much missed locally but will no doubt continue her inevitable journey into Parliament at the next election.

For his constant production of press releases, the His Master’s Voice Award goes to Michael Ireland, researcher for Hove MP, Mike Weatherley. Rarely a day goes by without another press release popping up in my inboThe most Inspired Campaign of the Year goes to the Labour Party for LOLA, the Leave Our Loos Alone campaign, to save public toilets from closure.

The Trend Setters Award goes to …. the Labour Party of the early 1990’s for starting the public toilet closure programme in Brighton.

The Hundred Year War Endurance Award goes to Steve Bassam and Jason Kitcat for their Twitter exchange on the Council Budget. It might not have gone on for a hundred years but sometimes it has felt that way to those of us who have read and reflected on each and every tweet!

The Individual Award for an Outstanding Election Result was closely fought. The panel of judges commended Sue Shanks for her victory in Withdene and Graham Cox for his Westbourne by-election result, but the award goes to Christopher Hawtree for his stunning individual performance in Central Hove.

The Dear Leader’s Award for Winding Up the Opposition (or on this occasion, winding up the Administration) goes to Tony Janio for wearing his Stars and Stripes tie at meetings of the Full Council.

And in spite of the judgement of the ridiculous ‘Standard’s Committee’, the Champagne Campaigning Moment goes to Dawn Barnett for her stunt in directing travellers in her ward to open spaces in Green-held wards.

The final award, the Who Got It Totally Wrong Award, goes to your Humble Blogger for getting the result of the Westbourne by-election totally wrong.

Congratulations to all award winners. Bask in the glory of your awards, and best wishes to all my readers (Momma Grizzly, Doris, and Biker Dave) for 2012.

Shocking revelation about newly elected councillor Graham Cox: Separated at Birth

Councillor Graham Cox

Councillor Graham Cox

Brighton Politics Blogger

Brighton Politics Blogger

Reflecting of the reasons for the Conservative victory in the Westbourne by-election

First of all, congratulations to Graham Cox on his victory. Here is the full result:
Graham Cox (Conservative) 1027
Nigel Jenner (Labour) 826
Louisa Greenbaum (Green) 645
Gareth Jone (LibDem) 45
Paul Perrin (UKIP) 36
Pip Tindall (TUSC) 26
Susan Collard (European Citizens) 13

It was definitely a good night for the Tories made all that better by Labour beating the Greens into second place. I think there are three factors that resulted in this good result:

Graham Cox: Graham, as I have said since his selection, was an inspired choice. His appeal transcends traditional party loyalties and we can expect to see him rising very quickly into a leadership position within the Tory ranks.
The Legacy of The Bishop: Graham’s predecessor, Brian Oxley, was well-respected and some support for Graham will have been derived from Brian. Graham will no doubt convert those loyalty votes for Brian to his own.
Mike Weatherley: In spite of rumoured tensions between Graham and Mike, the current standing and high profile of the MP for Hove will have benefited Graham.

Labour’s performance will have brought some quiet satisfaction. While they did not win the seat, Labour achieved its primary objective of beating the Greens. It was noticeable that the tone of most of Labour’s message at present in Brighton and Hove is anti-Green. Perhaps now it will turn it’s focus on the Tories who are, after all, enforcing the cuts on Brighton and Hove. The unrelenting attacks on the Greens is somewhat disingenuous.

For the Greens, third place behind Labour in second is the second worst result possible. (The worst result would to have been beaten by UKIP). In May the Greens did little work in the ward. In this by-election they worked it to win but did not improve their position or share of the vote.

As mentioned above, the Greens have been subjected to unrelenting attacks from the Argus and by three individual Labour members, Lord Bassam, Caroline Penn, and councillor Warren Morgan. While Jason Kitcat has diligently responded in a statesmanlike manner, the attacks are what the Greens must expect for the next three and a half years leading up to May 2015.

Labour’s LOLA campaign (Leave Our Loos Alone) shows some imagination. I would be interested to know who came up with this idea. More of that kind of propaganda will serve Labour well.

The Tories have cause to celebrate, Labour too. The Greens need to lick their wounds, reflect on where they have arrive in the political cycle, and devise a strategy for recovery. I will return to this theme in the new year.

But there was one big loser in this by-election whose performance betrayed his previous unblemished record, and that was the prediction of your Humble Blogger. As my three regular readers (Doris, Biker Dave and Grizzly) will know, my forecasts are usually spot on. But this time, failure. In mitigation, I did recognise the personal strengths of Graham Cox from the moment he was first selected and thought that his selection made a Tory victory a real possibility.

By way of contrition, I will share something later this evening about councillor Cox and me. This revelation will not doubt be the talk around Christmas trees of Brighton and Hove this Festive Season.

Graham Cox, Conservative, wins the Westbourne by-election

The holding of the seat by the Tories has little consequence to the overall political scene in Brighton and Hove. Yes, both Labour and the Greens will be disappointed not to have picked up the seat, but The Bishop (Brian Oxley) had a good reputation and both The Bishop’s legacy and the reputation of Graham Cox will have swung it for the Tories.

Labour will be pleased to have retained second place but they need to pickup seats like Westbourne if they are to challenge for control of the City Council. The Greens will inevitably see this as a set back, not least for their ambitions in Hove. They will have to get used to the unrelenting attacks on the administration, and learn how to combat such attacks.

But my initial reaction to the result is that an extraordinary candidate can capture the imagination of the electorate. Caroline Lucas did it in Brighton Pavilion, and Graham Cox has done it in Westbourne. There are few candidates who will be as well know, have such a long track record in the area, and be as widely respected as Graham is by supporters of all parties and none.

Congratulations to councillor Graham Cox, and commiserations to the other six candidates.

I will reflect more overnight on the implications for Labour and the Greens.

Westbourne by-election: it could all be down to the weather this evening

Folklore has it that the Tory vote comes out in the morning and early afternoon, with Labour and Green voters turning out after 4pm. If that is the case, the Tories must be pleased with the glorious weather so far today, and must be feeling some optimism.

I will be watching the weather closely in the early evening. If it rains then I think the Tory candidate, Graham Cox, should edge it.

The Greens had a real boost to their campaign yesterday evening when the Tories declared it a two horse race between them and the Greens. Voters undecided between Labour and the Greens might just, as a result of this leaflet, decide to go with the Greens. It won’t take many, perhaps just a couple of dozen, to go Green rather than Labour.

The postal vote turnout was pleasing from a Green perspective, with around half of those with postal votes not returning them. Given that the Greens have never really worked Westbourne until this by-election, the majority of postal voters will have been for the other parties. Having said that, the Greens did run a postal vote campaign and have been expressing quiet satisfaction that the Green postal voters have returned their ballots.

The Tories have pulled out all the stops to hold on to this seat and get their candidate, Graham Cox, elected. The Labour campaign has been one that characterises Labour in recent years, a small, dedicated band of activists doing what they can, but not setting the election on fire. The one high point was the arrival of Hillary Benn who brought much needed publicity for LOLA, Labour’s Leave Our Loos Alone campaign. No matter what might have been suggested, this isn’t an election winning issue, it is a good hook to hang some campaigning on, and could, in due course, capture the imagination, but LOLA won’t be enough for Labour’s Nigel Jenner.

Both Labour and the Tories have been keen to have a go at the Greens Louisa Greenbaum, suggesting that both parties believe she is the candidate to beat. Weather permitting, the superior Green organisation should see Louisa home. There may be glorious sunshine right now, but there are rain clouds on the horizon. That is no metaphor for the fortunes of the parties, just a meteorological observation!

Westbourne by-election, and the record of the Dear Leader

“I was sad to hear that Councillor Bill Randall has stepped down as Leader of Brighton and Hove City Council. I have never heard a bad word about him and I wish him well as Mayor.”

This is clearly the season of good will for these are not my words but those of the Deputy Chair (Political) of Brighton and Hove Conservatives, Robert Nemeth writing in today’s Brighton Argus.

But the Christmas spirit quickly evaporates and bad words are implied, if not said, against the Dear Leader (Randall, not Kim Jong-il). The “Greens did not hit the ground running”, decisions were taken “on the move rather than making the changes that were promised”, and that the situation has “no doubt been exacerbated by the internal squabbles”. He points to “chaos” on the issues of council tax, Falmer Stadium, and the Victoria Gardens campsite.

If that is not saying bad words against the Dear Leader, then I don’t know what is. And also, am right in thinking that history is being re-written? The Dear Leader hasn’t stood down after 6 months. He will remain the Dear Leader until the annual Council at which point he will become the Dear Mayor.

As for the Greens not hitting the ground running, my perception is that they did just that, and the approach to the budget has been quite extraordinary. By taking an open, inclusive approach to its preparation, and the invitation to Labour and Tory councillors, the opposition have been wrong footed, hence the all-out attack on the Greens by Labour’s Lord Bassam, Caroline Penn and Warren Morgan, and now Robert himself.

To suggest that there has been “chaos” is nonsense. These issues are the normal challenges that face a new (and yes, inexperienced) administration.

I don’t detect “internal squabbles”. There is debate and there are differences, but this has largely involved organisation and, to a lesser extent personalities. But such differences pale into insignificance when compared to the split between the the Hove and Pavilion Conservatives and the Kemptown Tories.

But enough of the Dear Leader, and enough of Mr Nemeth. All thoughts have turned to Christmas. Oh no they haven’t. Oh yes they have. OH NO THEY HAVEN’T!!! All thoughts are focused on Westbourne and tomorrow’s by-election.

I hear that both the Tories and Greens are pleased with their postal vote campaigns,I and that Labour and the Greens are pleased with their poster campaign. On postal votes, the Greens usually think they don’t do too well here, but they are quietly pleased with what they have achieved in Westbourne, and confidence levels are rising. But I hear from deep within the Labour camp that they are pleased with the number of promises they have secured for Nigel Jenner. The question is, how firm are these promises?

My prediction? I correctly ‘called’ the Goldsmid by-election, the Brighton Pavilion result (although I thought Chuck Vere would come second), and the number of seats the Greens would win in May (I said 22 or 23 – I didn’t see Chris Hawtree winning although he did). But this by-election is the most difficult ‘call’ because of the, likely, very low turnout. If this by-election was to take place in, say, May, I would think the Greens would win. They have the Big Mo, a candidate who lives in the ward, and in Luke Walter, the best election organiser in the City.

But the Joker in the Pack is the Tory candidate, Graham Cox. He is the equal to the Green’s Louisa Greenbaum, he is a first rate candidate. Without the other, either of these candidates would swing the result in an election as close as this.

If pushed, I would call it for Louisa Greenbaum, but it will be one of the closest results in years. I think that given the low turnout it could still go any one of three ways.

Best wishes to ALL candidates tomorrow. My respect for candidates remains, and I thank all seven of you for making democracy a reality.

(The original version of this post referred to Caroline Pegg. Her name has been corrected to Caroline Penn).

Dawn Barnett found guilty – a day of shame for the City’s political processes

Conservative councillor Dawn Barnett has been found guilty by Brighton and Hove City Council’s ‘Standards Committee’ of bringing her office or the local authority into disrepute. In the summer councillor Barnett handed out letters to travellers camped in her Hangleton and Knoll Ward directing them to open spaces in Green-held wards.

A full write up of the hearing can be found in Brighton and Hove News, and excellent and up to the minute online newspaper serving Brighton and Hove.

Until now I have not named the councillor who made the complaint. I had hoped that he would withdraw it. The complaint was made by Green councillor Phelim MacCafferty, who represents Brunswick and Adelaide ward. I actually think Phelim is a lovely man but that he got this one wrong. The use of the ‘Standards Committee’ system is unnecessary. Political differences should be sorted out politically rather than using a procedural process designed to silence dissenting voices. I am delighted that the days of the Standards system are numbered.

If there is one silver lining to this cloud it is that no sanction is being imposed on Dawn Barnett. I am just sorry that she, as with Jason Kitcat and Averil Older before her, have been subjected to the stress of such a hearing.

I conclude by quoting the Tory MP for Hove, Mike Weatherley: “The standards committee is not a forum to stifle freedom of expression based on political disagreements.” Absolutely right. I hope that this discredited system is not used again in Brighton and Hove.