Forget the Westbourne by-election: prepare for the next Battle of Hastings

While the Eurozone is in meltdown and International Capitalism is in crisis, the goldfish bowl of Brighton and Hove politics sees little further than the Green’s budget. The trenches of this battleground are concentrated in a few streets in Hove in Westbourne Ward. This first test of the Green administration is fascinating, with activists cheering on their own champions: Louisa Greenbaum (Green), Graham Cox (Conservative) and Nigel Jenner (Labour).

The UKIP candidate in the Westbourne by-election is being cheered on very loudly by Paul Perrin who is, by coincidence, the UKIP candidate in the Westbourne by-election. The candidates of the other parties have no cheerleaders, no one to defend their honour, and they make a sad sight as they trudged the streets, looking for a sympathy vote. How they would love a Christopher Hawtree, a Momma Grizzly, a Caroline Penn. At this time of peace and goodwill to all please take pity on the candidates for the Lib Dems, TUSC and the European Movement for the Annex of Schleswig-Holstein (I suspect I might have got that last one wrong – bloody predictive text).

But while the pavements of Westbourne are being pounded by the usual suspects, east of the centre of the Universe, in Hastings and Rye, a fascinating local skirmish is developing. It is a fascinating area where at the general election the constituency went from Labour to Conservative while on the same day the town council went from Conservative to Labour control.

The highly popular and well-respected Labour MP, Michael Foster, was defeated by the formidable Blue Tory Lady, Amber Rudd. Her cause was helped by the addition of Tory-stronghold of Rye to the constituency. Since polling day she has carefully nurtured the constituency, making friends and influencing people. As a constituency MP she will be hard to shift, although the backlash against the Tories and their Lib Dem poodles will keep this as a marginal seat. One fears for the future of the decent Stephen Lloyd in Eastbourne while Lord Baker of Lewes is set for higher things (the House of Lords) where he won’t have to renege on written pledges to his constituents.

But hark (a Christmas reference) who is that emerging from stage left, to challenge the incumbent? Who is this apprentice politician hoping to say to Ms. Rudd, “You’re fired!”. (And why this ever-so feeble attempt to mimic Lord Sugar?). For it is Sarah Owen, the newly selected Labour candidate.

Sarah is currently political advisor to Lord Sugar and is helping to develop Labour’s national small business policy. Previously she worked in the emergency planning department of the London Fire Brigade. And just in case My Pal Paul is worried that she might have worked in a genuine small business, thereby ruining his belief that all Labour, Tory and Green politicians have never worked in the ‘real world’, she did work as a ‘political assistant’ at … Brighton and Hove City Council!

And how did Ms Rudd react to Ms Owen’s selection? A little back-handed compliment: “It will be nice to have a new voice in Hastings and Rye for people on behalf of Labour.”

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33 Responses

  1. Have you met Sarah before?

    If you haven’t then when you do you are in for a treat. She has such a charisma. She is pure Labour talent at it’s best!

    I know that Brighton LP members are so excited and happy about her selection, we all know she will make a brilliant MP.

    Future PM.

    • I was very impressed when I first met Sarah at a presentation she gave to a Labour meeting about her work. She is a true asset to the Party and a dead cert to go far.

  2. Point of anorak info: Rye was part of this seat when Michael Foster won it in 1997. He lost it as part of the general anti-Labour swing, though it was lower here than elsewhere.

    The only really good thing Amber Rudd’s ever done was to divorce A A Gill.

  3. Sarah will make an excellent MP and advocate for the people of Hastings but also someone with a strategic policy brain who will make her mark on the national stage. As for Amber Rudd’s ‘compliment’, Sarah is hardly ‘new’ as she is Hastings born and bred unlike former venture capitalist carpet bagger Ms Rudd whose victory was ably assisted by Lord Ashcroft’s millions.

  4. There are a whole range of bubbles people operate in – but it is rather surprising that social media is being almost entirely avoided by the other Westbourne candidates.

    If they don’t feel confident to engage with the general public what are they doing as candidates?

    Could it be the flack the greens are taking on twitter regarding the budget?

    The Green candidate may be simply keeping her head down, while the old parties are just horrified at what such accountability actually means.

    Whatever I think of the Green budget – and many of their social/financial policies – full credit to Jason for being man enough to stand-up for his budget. I don’t notice any LibLabCon councils being so accessible to the public.

    However, I am sure every criticism the green budget gets on twitter will be reinforcing LibLabCons (local and national) aversion to accountability (I’ll bet they are smugly calling the Greens fools for putting themselves in such a position) – which will be a huge shame if the public let them get away with it and don’t INSIST on all councils opening up in this way.

    • Paul – I’d like to think that you are right about the public consultation on the budget, and hopefully you are, but, having spoken to a Councillor at one of the street stalls last weekend it sounded to me more a case of the Green Party wanting to find some cover for the cuts, and wanting the public to provide that.

      Whoever was in power now, the great majority of the budget would be the same. The difficulty for the Green Party is that they promised something very different. It’s strange how ‘resisiting cuts to the maximum extent’, and ‘implementing the ConDem cuts’ can actually both be true at the same time.

      • Rubbish – given the hand we were dealt by Cameron, Clegg and Pickles it took a lot of skill to absorb £39m of imposed cuts without affecting critical services and I don’t believe Labour would have approached the task with the same degree of intelligence or care. The only way to reduce the cuts further would be to raise council tax above 3.5% which would require an expensive and risky referendum. Yet you have joined with the Tories in saying that council tax should be frozen, which would necessitate even deeper cuts. Sooner or later people will twig that Labour are being two-faced here.

      • And the cuts are still being opposed at a national level – Caroline Lucas gave an electrifying speech at the rally in Brighton last Wednesday, rallying the demonstrators. Meanwhile Labour leadership tacitly opposed the strike.

      • I think actually you are going to be affecting front line services. Please read the following and guess where it is from :

        3.20 Cabinet will also be aware of CLG proposals to localise council tax benefit from 1 April 2013 with an associated reduction in funding of 10%. The reduction in funding for Brighton & Hove is approximately £2.6m. Achieving this level of reduction whilst continuing to protect pensioners, other vulnerable groups and incentivise work is likely to be very challenging. There are also concerns about the feasibility of introducing the new system by April 2013 not least because of the major changes needed to IT systems which suppliers are indicating may not deliverable within this timescale.

        3.37 Revisions to the budget assumptions have resulted in changes to the savings targets for 2012/13 and 2013/14. The table below shows how the 2012/13 target has moved from £16.4m to £17.25m. The latest savings target for 2013/14 is £17.7m an increase of £0.5m since the July report. The increase is a result of setting aside additional resources of up to £0.5m for a food waste collection pilot as outlined in a report elsewhere on the agenda.

        So let me get this right. The council is worried that the 10% reduction might be too deep to sustain. And the MOST VULNERABLE are at risk.

        Also the Council are cutting £0.5mil to fund a food waste collection pilot…

        How about you don’t talk about deeper cuts that labour would have put in when you lot are funding a bloody food waste collection scheme!!!

        (source – the local council budget report)

      • Jason doesn’t have to tweet or field tweeted questions – where are LIbLabCon councils doing this?

        I’d like to see a regular, open, interactive ‘councillors question time’.

        This is most important/useful for those who *disagree* with what is happening – so it is a brave councillor who would take it on… Another good reason for the people of Westbourne to vote for me. UKIP and I have no baggage or skeletons so bring it on!

      • Steampunk – as long as Greens are spending at least £800,000 on NEW projects, they are in no position to blame anyone for the cuts they are making.

        Green manifesto priortiy #1:
        “Resist, to the greatest extent possible, the service cuts
        and privatisation imposed on local councils by the
        Conservative and Lib Dem Government.”

        No qualifier about ‘unless to fund our own pet projects’…

        If the greens have resisted cuts and have £800,000 left over – well done!! However it looks more like they have cut, and then cut another £800,000 so they can fund pet projects…

      • Dr. Lucas’s speech was hardly any sort of Obama moment. More a workmanlike ticking of the boxes.

        The point, as so ably put by Harris, is that the very services we would expect to be protected by a progressive administration are those that seem to be sustaining some of the most crippling cuts; meanwhile downland management and food waste collection – hardly essential to the vast majority of CT payers – are being launched at considerable expense.

        The whole ‘openness’ palaver is just spin. Far from feeling threatened by the concept, however, Labour activists and elected public servants have entered into the online debate with gusto. Trouble is, every time someone disagrees with Cllr. Kitcat he calls them liars.

      • Steampunk – I’m not sure what you are saying ‘rubbish’ to. Also, I don’t think you can say that ‘I’ have called for Council Tax to be frozen. What bugs me particularly about the Green Party stance is that they knew what the position was before the election and so stood on a deliberately undeliverable platform – but then again they never wanted to win. They knew that there would be cuts, but said they would be resisted to the maximum extent possible. Well they might as well have said ‘we will comply with the Condem cuts’ – it means the same. They knew they couldn’t afford to sack the Strategic Directors, but still campaigned for it; they knew they couldn’t bring the Fostering Service ‘in-house’, but still went for cheap jestures to appeal to a particular constituency, and now have to transfer additional funds to pay for more private fostering placements.

        Does ‘risky’ referendum mean one that you might lose?

        As for Caroline’s ‘electrifying’ speech – Tim’s description as a ‘workmanlike ticking of the boxes’ is exactly right – I’d heard her make the same speech several times before, and others spoke more persuasively. One thing I would say for Caroline is that she dealt very well with a very stroppy elderly couple straight after her speech who were quite aggressive towards her.

      • Caroline was the best speaker and got the biggest crowd reaction

        “never doubt that this is what democracy looks like”

      • Tim – LibLabCon won’t be threatened by the content of the current BHBudget conversation – they are massively threatened by the principle of such a conversation happening.

        LibLabCon must be absolutely sure that the online interactive conversation (best represented in twitter) fails – so they, themselves, are never publicly exposed in such a way.

        LibLabCon can best prevent such a conversation happening again by ensuring that Jason, personally, crashes and burns.

        I look forward to the budget crashing and burning because it is ideological nonsense – but the public engagement is very much a positive thing, and I await other councils to do the same…

      • Rubbish to Labour pretending that they would freeze council tax and at the same time find some other way of saving £39 million to balance the books – it’s just not possible.

        In answer to your other question we are being true to our word:

        2011 manifesto

        Priority one:
        “Resist, to the greatest extent possible, the service cuts and privatisation imposed on local councils by the Conservative and Lib Dem Government.
        Where the Coalition leaves no choice, protect services for children, vulnerable adults and those on low incomes.”

        We were also elected on the basis of the other twelve priorities: promoting fairness, democracy and environmental improvements. By prioritising carefully and making the council more efficient we can protect essential services and at the same time introduce long term improvements for the city.

      • Steampunk

        If you believe that the budget has resisted the ‘cuts’ and make the best part of a million quid available for new projects – what is your problem with the cuts at all?

        Services protected, £800,000 for new projects… whats your problem?

        Surely you should be cheering on the ConDem government for promoting brighton and hove council to do so much more with less?

        Drop those new projects and council tax can be frozen, and everything financed with the 2.5% ‘tax freeze grant’.

        Cool – almost everyone happy…

      • Thanks for the link – it helpfully confirmed my observation that Caroline introduced herself as ‘MP for Brighton’, and if you look at her speech outside St. Paul’s (‘MP Brighton and Hove’ according to the Green Party) you’ll see the ‘never doubt that this is what democracy looks like’ line being used there. Its a good line, but my point was that Caroline can be a bit predictable.

      • @Paul – even without £800k on projects, to freeze council tax you would need to find another £4.6m cuts by my reckoning. We have public backing for our proposals, the city voted in 23 Green councillors in May for a reason.

      • Steampunk, You can’t avoid it – the green budget put best part of a million into new projects – money freed up by *choosing* to cut elsewhere.

        Greens got 33% of the votes on a 45% turn out – about 15% of the electorate… Some mandate…

      • The other week told Mr Kitcat what I thought of licencing giving incumbents an unfair advantage, then I hear this is to be looked at.

        Then yesterday I suggest a’councillors question time’ – today I see tweeted:
        “Do you have questions about the council’s budget? Take part in our live Q&A session this Friday #BHBudget http://t.co/fRjQquuf #Brighton”

        Feels like being a councillor already.

      • Paul, your assertions that Labour fears transparency and online debate is paranoid nonsense. Sure, we’d love to help KitCut crash and burn, but that’s on general principles. No black helicopters here.

      • @tim check out the endless tweets on the amex parking. between @stevethequip and @jasonkitcat

        What a waste of time – each should do a blog on what they consider the facts and leave it there.

        As it is, it may end up as a case study on why councillors won’t do direct access.

        Political posturing to the detriment of the public and public accountability of politicians.

        Bassom maybe a lord – but in Brighton he is just another resident.

    • For your reference, Paul, Graham Cox (Conservative candidate) uses both Twitter and Facebook:

      Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/coxgraham
      Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/coxforwestbourne

  5. Is it just me or is Cllr Kitcat rapidly losing this by-election for the Greens? Seems to be falling out with everyone, turning money down left right and centre and now trying to stitch up the Albion.

  6. I’m very much a champion of Graham Cox, although I don’t think I’d suit a cheerleader outfit. It doesn’t tend to go well with leather boots.

  7. Fascinating stuff Brighton Politics Blogger but do you have any insight into why the new Green adminitration are leaving the Council’s senior management team inplac when they pledged to get rid of all of them? Are they seriously talking about sacking street sweepers but keeping strategic directors? I know what a street sweeper does and have the wherwithall to measure their value. What do the strategic directors do. No seriously… that’s not a swipe at them. What do they do?

    • This question is one that is in my mind too. What on EARTH do these Strategic Directors do….Geoff Raw smiles pleasantly and looks fascinated by what officers below him say in meetings and occasionally makes a contribution.

      I’ve met Terry Parkin who understands the schools thing…..felt chilled by David Murray’s glarey hard-man looks……..but I am at a loss to see the shape or identity their jobs should be providing – tangibly.

  8. Hi Valerie – ias ever with you it’s an interesting question. Let’s put the personalities aside and, as Tony Benn used to say, let’s look at the ‘ishoos’. Cards on the table: I ilke John Barradell and also Mary Mears(1) (okay, I’ll get off personalities I promise) but their strategic commissioning ‘vision’ has failed to produce tangible results. Is the extent that BHCC commissions from independent/public/third sector poviders larger than the services it provides? No. Is, for example, health and social care any more integrated than 4 years ago. No. Do we have less duplication between community groups, tenants associations, community support officers than 4 years ago? No.Have the strategic directors failed? Possibly. If so, why aren’t the Greens addressing the situation as their manifesto said they would?

  9. I think stitching up the Albion will be a nail in the coffin for the Greens…..one of the few positive things to come out of the City in recent years was the stadium and the fact the Albion wanted to save a much needed community facility in the Bridge by giving them a new home spoke volumes to me. The fact the Greens have said in the Argus today we would rather tax payers, instead of the Albion funded a new community centre is madness. This tax payer has had enough. A 3.5% increase, forthnightly bin collections and now we turn down money for community projects. I had a leaflet saying this would happen in May and I asked my local green councillor if this was true and he said it was all Tory lies……………

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