Reflecting on the actions and comments of Francis Maude, Ben Duncan and Dawn Barnett

This week I reflect on three politicians who have captured the headlines for words and actions.

The first is Francis Maude, Cabinet Office Member and MP for Horsham, who encouraged people to store spare petrol supplies in their garage. Other than the danger associated with storing a highly flammable material, it showed how out of touch he is with ordinary people. Just 22% of households have garages. His comments were part of a truly pathetic attempt by the Conservatives to create a diversion to Pasty-gate, the Granny Tax, and other failures from the budget, not least the tax give away to the rich.

Tragically and inevitably someone has got seriously hurt. Maude should resign and Cameron should apologise for his comments and those of his government colleagues over the ‘fuel crisis’.

The second politician is local Green councillor, Ben Duncan, over his four-letter outburst about pasties. Today he has apologised after he realised that local baker, Forfars, which has a shop in his ward, is set to lose £250,000 because of the new tax on pasties and pies.

Ben Duncan said he was just joking: “I’m amazed anyone took my comment seriously and do apologise if it caused any offence. It was a joke that was responding to the news because it’s not the only thing going on in the world. The point I was trying to make was that the debate about pasties is distracting from larger issues.

“Clearly I sympathise with any business that is suffering from the appallingly unfair budget. I would love to go and visit the bakery and sample some of their vegan goods.”

But Ben Duncan is inviting ‘open season’ on himself with a further ill-advised tweet quoted by today’s Argus: “You’ve got to be so careful on Twitter – scumbag journos are watching your every move!”

Even Christopher Hawtree distanced himself from Ben Duncan’s unguarded comments, saying that Ben Duncan is “the Green’s Prince Philip”.

It is said that in politics, worse than being accused of incompetence, is to be ridiculed. I think that councillor Hawtree has just ridiculed his Green colleague.

My third and final comment relates to Conservative councillor Dawn Barnett. Police had to ask her to leave a site in her ward and next to where she lives where an unofficial travellers camp has been set up. Police advised her to go home for her own safety.

It may come as surprise to my three regular readers, Biker Dave, Momma Grizzly and Doris, as well as to my latest follower, the Enigmatic Flo, that I will continue to defend councillor Barnett, although I have fundamental differences with her on the issue of travellers.

I don’t know whether councillor Barnett was doing anything to provoke a breach of the peace. I believe that councillors must be able to go about their business without hindrance, particularly in the ward they represent. If councillor Barnett’s safety was at risk, the police must put in place measures to protect her.

She should be allowed to visit the site of the travellers and her well being must be safeguarded. If she was to commit an offence (and I doubt she would) then the police should take action against her. Her mere presence is not cause to ask her to go home.

Perhaps councillor Duncan, as the Cabinet Member for Public Protection, will use his good offices to ensure that a fellow councillor can go freely about her business .

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Debate should not decline into bullying and name-calling

Let’s face it, there is not much that separates the different parties in Brighton and Hove. After all, 53 of the 54 councillors voted for the budget this year (the honourable exception being Lady Everton). Yes, there were differences about 1% of the budget, but on the rest there was agreement.

It is the 1% I wish to comment on, and how heated the debate is on these issues.

It has recently been suggested to me that politics in Brighton is getting increasingly polarised, that there are constant allegations of a Conservative/Labour alliance, accusations of the Barclays boycott being anti-Israeli & blogs about corruption. My esteemed correspondent say that it’s not healthy and that all 3 parties need to step back and take a deep breath.

Each of the three main parties in Brighton and Hove have decent hard-working members and councillors. Political activism is on the decline generally, so I have the utmost respect for the who give of their time, whatever their political outlook.

My regular readers (Momma Grizzly, Doris and Biker Dave) will testify that I don’t like it when political exchanges become personally abusive. For one thing it gives politics a bad name.

Twitter has added much to political discourse but it is also becoming the vehicle of choice for political bullying. Twitter is great when one party or activist is questioned or challenged by another, it is something else when the pack mentality takes over, with challenges being repeated over and over, even when a reasonable response has been given. It does not reflect well on those mounting and sustaining the attacks.

As for specific issues, there is no Labour/Conservative alliance. On Brighton and Hove City Council these two parties are in opposition, and it is the role of the opposition to oppose. Their opposition, however, is more convincing if they can support the Administration wherever possible and not oppose for opposition sake.

The Barclays ‘debate’ on Twitter has not been one that has reflected well on the political process, being an example of where one female Labour activist seems to have been repeatedly targeted by others (certainly evidence of no Labour/Conservative alliance).

Israel is always a very volatile issue, and some cannot accept that criticism of the conduct of the State of Israel (and in particular, the Israeli Defence Force) and Zionism is very different from being anti-Semitic. I expect criticism for just saying that.

The purpose of this post is to make a plea for reasonableness in political debate. Have your say but respect your opponents. The public prefers it when politicians agree when they can, and they respect respectful debate where there isn’t agreement.

A new dawn and the hand of history greets the new Labour Party in Brighton and Hove

The new Brighton and Hove Labour Party formally came into being this morning with an all-City AGM. New officers have been elected and my source at the centre of power believes the new line-up of officers makes “a strong team” and that there will be a new focus on campaigning as opposed to endless meetings.

Adrian Morris is the newly elected Chair. (I know it will upset my Labour friends when I remind them that Adrian stood down at the 11th hour as candidate in St Peters and North Laine in the 2011 elections. I hope he has greater staying power this time).

The two new vice-chairs are Nigel Jenner (who did well in the Westbourne by-election in December) and Christine Robinson (who I respect as a strong trade unionist who works for GMB). The new executive committee is made up of Juan Leahy, Tracey Hill, Caroline Penn, former councillor Kevin Allen & Chaun (I am sorry but I don’t know her surname, but
she impressed with what sounds what appeared to be a great speech).

I understand that this AGM marks a watershed for Labour in Brighton and Hove with a shift of focus away from the internal reviews to a new focus on taking on the Tories & campaigning on national issues. Mike Weatherley will be a main focus of some of the campaigning, but it remains to be seen whether the New New Labour in the City will be able to let go of their obsession with the She Devil and All Her Works (my regular readers, Momma Grizzly, Doris and Biker Dave know that that is a reference to Caroline Lucas – not my view but that of the likes of Harris Fitch).

It looks as though Labour will field a candidate for Police Commissioner, which is a shame since the Party has no chance of being successful, where as an independent might just spring a surprise.

The Greens could take a leaf or two out of Labour’s book when it comes to selecting candidates for the European elections. Labour’s selection will have gender balance so if (as expected) Peter Skinner is number 1 on the Labour list, number 2 will be a woman.

So we have a new dawn for Labour in Brighton and Hove which can be nothing but a good thing for the political process. It really isn’t a time for sound bites, but I sense the hand of history on my shoulder …..

(Update: Chaun’s surname is Wilson)
(Update 2: changed ‘sound items’ to ‘sound bites’)

The Green Party ‘establishment’ at sixes and sevens over Jason Kitcat’s decision to stand for the European Parliament

My post last night regarding the decision of councillor Jason Kitcat to put his name forward has attracted a reaction from the Green Party ‘establishment’. I received one email that aimed to set out the correct facts (something that has never unduly influenced me):

“We began our selection process for the 2014 (not 2013) European Parliamentary elections last Autumn. … That’s before Bill publicly announced he’d be standing down; let alone Jason emerging as our nominee for Leader of the Council. We are currently selecting a list of ten candidates from a total of 18 nominees. This process will end on 9th April. At that point we’ll know where Jason has been selected on the list, if at all. Since 1999 we’ve had one MEP in the Region. We are hopeful that we might make that two this time. Therefore, unless Jason is selected first or second; his chances of being elected as an MEP are more or less zero. Even if he is selected in first or second place; the election isn’t until June 2014. That’s 2 1/4 years away. I can’t see any reason why this should interfere with his work as Leader of the Council. This is especially true as we elect our Group Leader once a year, so in order for Jason to still be Leader of the Council by the time of the European Elections, he’d have to stand and be re-elected twice by the Group and Local Party.”

I’m not sure if I entirely agree that an election two and a quarter years away would not interfere with his work as Leader of the Council. I would hope it would not, but then it would be a pity if a candidate selected so early did not campaign energetically across the south east constituency during that time.

There were comments left on my earlier post that tend to contradict each other. Rob Shepherd writes: “It is not the case that Bill Randall decided to stand down after just one year in office. In fact, he made it clear when he took office that it would be only for one year” while Ben Duncan writes: “All candidates (Jason included) seeking nomination to the Green Party’s list for the European Parliamentary election put their names forward last year… well before the role of Leader of Brighton and Hove City Council became vacant”.

It could be that both are correct but it means that the right and left of the Greens aren’t aware of what the other is up to. Whatever the situation, I coninue to hold the view that Brighton and Hove City Council needs someone of the calibre of Jason Kitcat as its Leader. His effectiveness will be watered down if he was to be selected as a candidate for the European elections.
 

Is Jason Kitcat right to be seeking selection as a candidate for the European elections?

The decision of the leader-elect of the Green Party in Brighton and Hove, Jason Kitcat, to put his name forward for the panel for candidates for the European Parliament is, unsurprisingly, attracting criticism. Conservative councillor Graham Cox, for example, has tweeted “New Green Council leaders pledge lasted 14 days. Already trying to leave for Brussels.” He tweeted later “Why are the Green leaders so keen to head for Brussels? Are they bored with us locals in Brighton and Hove already?”

It is inevitable that a newly elected administration will make some mistakes and it is expected that some of what they do will be misinterpreted and misrepresented. However, some things can be avoided. Putting one’s name forward for election to a different body within weeks of being chosen to be your party’s leader on a local authority is something that could have been avoided.

Questions were raised when the current leader, Bill Randall, decided to stand down after just one year in office. He is likely to be formally elected as the Mayor at the May Council Meeting. I personally understand why councillor Randall has made his decision. As you would expect with someone like councillor Randall, it was done for very proper reasons and came as no surprise to many, including this Blogger.

Should councillor Kitcat be elected in 2013 to the European Parliament, the Greens on the City Council will have their third leader in just over a year. I for one would hope that councillor Kitcat withdraws his name from the Green list for the European Parliament in order to focus on leading the Greens up to and beyond the City Council elections in 2015. He is extremely able and should he go to the European Parliament, he would be a huge loss to the City as there are few to match his ability.

The case for an Independent Police Commissioner

There is an investing article in this week’s Latest 7, an odd little magazine but with a great writer in Frank le Duc. This week he features the only (currently) independent candidate for the Sussex Police Commissioner, Ian Chisnall. Click here for Ian’s website.

Around the country, elections for Commissioners will take place in November. According to Frank le Duc “Two Conservatives have declared their hand – East Sussex County Council leader Peter Jones and Arun District Council member Paul Dendle, who also has a county-wide role with the party. The current police authority chairman Steve Waight may also throw his hat into the ring for the Tories.”

The Greens and Lib Dems are not expected to field candidates in the Sussex Police Commissioner election.

Labour’s Paul Richards has declared his hand although a formal selection has yet to take place. Labour originally opposed the creation of Police Commissioners, but have now decided to contest these elections.

Let’s face it, the official Conservative candidate is going to be elected. All electoral mathematics points to a substantial majority. That means that it will be Conservative Party members who will, in reality, choose the Police Commissioner. This can’t be a healthy state of affairs. It means that the successful candidate has to appeal to the narrow perspective of Tory members in deepest Sussex.

The ethical challenge for Conservative Party is whether it will organise an open selection, allowing anyone in Sussex to cast a vote in order to ensure that the elected Commissioner has wider credibility.

If not, I would suggest that the Labour Party should join with the Greens and Lib Dems by not fielding a candidate, and all supporting and campaigning for an independent candidate. Labour has nothing to lose and everything to gain – the outside possibility of not having a Party political, specifically a Conservative, Commissioner.

Brighton Politics Blogger to stand as a Conservative candidate in 2015

Brighton Pavilion and Hove Conservatives are seeking candidates for the 2015 City Council elections – and you do not have to be a Party member already

Its website says that “In a bold new move the Conservatives in Brighton Pavilion and Hove have opened up their selection process for the first time to any member of the local community who wants to serve their neighbours by becoming a Councillor. No longer will selection be restricted to those who are already Party members.”

Councillor Andrew Wealls, who led a review of candidate selection, said: “We would like to hear from anyone who wants to work for the local community to ensure the Council better serves local residents and businesses. Of course we would expect them to be broadly sympathetic to Conservative values but the most important consideration is a determination to make life better for all residents, whether by ensuring council tax bills are reduced or delivering council services more effectively.”

In the spirit of the New Conservative Party, I have decided to put my name forward. While I have some difficulties with certain Conservative ‘values’, I am pleased that “the most important consideration is a determination to make life better for all residents”.

I want to make life better for residents, but which residents? Which seat will they let me stand in? Obviously there is a determination by the New Conservatives to make life better for this Blogger, and so will certainly allow me to stand in a safe seat. That rules out all seats in the current Brighton Pavilion constituency, even Withdean and Patcham wards.

So what sort of policies should I stand on? I am a conservative kind of person. I want to conserve socialist values in the Labour Party, a battle that is sadly being lost. I want low Council Tax rises, say 3.5%, in order to avoid bigger cuts last year, and on this issue I can foresee a Phillips-Blogger coalition at next year’s Budget Meeting. The modern Tory Party is committed to creating coalitions to replace the one with the doomed Lib Dems.

So here are some of my ideas for the Blogger’s Conservative manifesto:

  • The mandatory wearing of ties sporting the stars and stripes by all male Conservative councillors at all times;
  • All Tory councillors must abide by the Hyde Rule – having been born within a two mile radius of Brighton Town Hall (to hell with inbreeding, councillor Ania Kitcat);
  • Leading the annual Pride March around Hangleton – pride that the ward is the most anti-traveller ward in the City; and
  • Unlimited extensions for speeches by councillors Janio and Hawtree at all council meetings with tickets for the public gallery being sold to the highest bidders.