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.

28 Responses

  1. A great blog and very apposite, all parties need to pay attention not just to their support base who would ride into battle almost more readily than the councillors themselves, but to those who are not their natural supporters. Brighton and Hove desperately needs some good strong pragmatic leadership. Not cut throat fights at every opportunity no matter how little the strategic gain for the party or city.

  2. Agree. Could I make my own plea?

    I have no idea what this Barclays boycott is all about. Mostly this is down to the fact I am not on Twitter or Facebook. Even if I was, though, I would only know about this if I chose to follow certain individuals.

    The wider point (ignoring the fact that perhaps I need to get with the programme) is that political messages need to be relevant, readily comprehensible and available to an audience beyond the hard core of political activists. It seems to me that a lot of the obsession with social media actually militates against this.

    This is important if one believes in the rather lofty aim of a functioning democracy – but for those who prefer an appeal to self-interest, there are rich pickings for parties who can reach beyond the usual suspects and push up turnout. Surely this was the big lesson of the Green success at the 2011 B+H locals?

    • Last week, Labour Co-Op put forward a motion to council, backed by the Greens, to look at alternatives to investing £5m of council tax in Barclays.

      Despite the very vocal claims of certain Conservatives, the decision was not anti-business, related to Smash EDO, anti-Israel or anything else.

      In pursuing “aggressive tax avoidance”, Barclays attempted to avoid paying £500m in tax. The financial collapse has increased hardship for many in our city. Tonight Chris Evans (Labour Co-Op) MP got the second reading of his “Banking (Disclosure, Responsibility and Education)” Bill aimed at tackling financial exclusion. His article is worth a read:

      As Labour Co-Op we believe in fair trade, ethical investment & mutuals. It is therefore only natural our councillors would wish to look for alternatives for tax payers money.

      • ‘Attempted to avoid’ so presumably didn’t actually avoid – and also did not take any taxpayers money as ‘bailout’ so keenly proffered by Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling.

        If it is truly ‘hardship’ caused to taxpayers that is opposed then the banks that received £billions in bailout (much of which will never be recovered) that should be actively disapproved of. Not one of the very few who took nothing from us, lost none of our money and didn’t even in actually ‘avoid’ any tax.

  3. Not a very good excuse i’m afraid. The other large bank that did not take tax payers’ money was HSBC and they avoided paying £2 billion tax that is more than 4 times the Barclays avoidance.

    So why only Barclays?

    • So does the council have investments with HSBC too?

      • The Council has twice as much (£10 million) with HSBC than it does with Barclays. It also deposits money with Lloyds, Santander, Co-Op and RBS.
        Brighton and Hove Labour Party’s motion called for a boycott of Barclays, and did not mention any of the other banks. We are still mystified why Labour singled out Barclays?
        We know the Green Party and Smash EDO want a boycott of Barclays because the bank has connections with Israel.
        Labour will not tell us why they singled out Barclays – the reasons that have trickled out apply more to other banks who they do not want a boycott of!
        My suspicion is that this was a silly attempt by Labour to embarrass the Greens, which they did not think through properly. Until they admit that though Brighton and Hove Labour Party aligning themselves with the Green Party in a campaign which is motivated by opposition to Barclay’s connections with Israel

  4. Mr Perrin: The government has introduced retrospective legislation to close the loophole that Barclays exploited. It’s possible only £150m of the £500m may be recovered.

    Without wishing to open a whole new can of worms, it could be suggested this is one of the best arguments for the EU. Europe-wide financial regulation would have a far greater impact than the UK trying to it alone against the global financial sector.

    LindaF: The BHConservatives were keen to accuse the Greens of hypocrisy and incorrectly reported the council were committed to investing the £5m in Barclays. I welcome Greens support for the Labour councillors motion to consider socially responsible investments.

    Barclays has an Ethiscore of 0.5 out of 20, even lower than the other big four banks.
    Only last week, Barclays ordered to pay almost £70m after mis-selling investments to business customers.

    I think the real question here is: why the Tories have refused to support the motion?
    Given the budget give-away for millionaires and the Cash for Cameron scandal, it’s clear where their priorities lie.

    • Shame your boycott of Barclays came a week after the Palestine Solidarity Campaigners had an intimidating and rowdy anti-Israel demonstration in the banking hall at Barclays North Street.

      As the saying goes: when you’re in a hole, don’t keep digging.

      • What does this have to do with council decisions on investments?

        And are you going to back up your previous point about HSBC by stating what investments the council has in that bank? It was a genuine question: if the council does invest in HSBC then you are asking a legitimate question. If not, then it’s irrelevant.

    • You don’t need to surrender UK governance to an unelected, unaccountable, remote commission in Brussels to negotiate an international agreement on banking…

      The (lack of) financial prowess of the that very commission is clear to see from the collapse of the Euro single currency.

      It was funny to hear Caroline Lucas talk of the ‘Eurozone’ having better growth than the UK, as if all members are doing well… It is German growth that is good as it hoovers up all the wealth, industry etc of the rest of the Eurozone members and they implode into poverty. Ever richer Germans, ever more destitute Greeks – socialism in action.

  5. Last year we were accused of being part of a “Socialist Coalition” or “Rainbow Alliance” by the Tories for working on joint budget amendments with the Greens. This year we were labelled “blue Labour” by the Greens for not working on joint budget amendments with the Tories.

    Last week we were attacked by the Tories for asking the Greens to look at alternative investments to Barclays, and by the Greens for backing a Tory motion on summer demonstrations.

    We will make our own judgements, issue by issue, on what is best for the city and it’s residents. We will not be bullied, embarassed or pressured into siding with the Greens or Tories.

    In the coming months and years we will set out a clear Labour and Co-operative programme for Brighton and Hove, one which will appeal to voters as a more realistic alternative to the Greens and a fairer alternative to the Tories.

  6. As a casual observer…

    Greens oppose Barclays because they can – they are actually against all banks… and banking… and private capital… and private wealth… and humanity come to that… but got to start somewhere…

    Labour thought they could embarrass the Greens over Barclays and have a race-memory of being anti-Barclays (but they can’t quite remember why, or whether it is still valid).

    Conservatives know the answer will be embarrassing (useful for next campaign) so want to force labour to actually say the words and won’t let them out of the headlock until they do.

    Actively aiming for consensus politics is for undemocratic one party states – the Green party are the BNP of the traditional left (whether or not all of their supporters have notice yet) and need opposing at every opportunity.

    • What makes for success in opposition? Possibly some of these factors:
      – Taking up isues of concern to voters
      -Not taking votes for granted
      -Good communication with supporters
      -An active party machine at grass roots level
      -Able representatives
      -Articulating needs/desires of natural support base
      -Identifying/exploiting weaknesses in other parties

      Parties would do worse than to carry out a strategic analysis regularly, after which they devise clear aims/goals and a tactical short-medium term plan to achieve these. They would be acting in the way big business tries to keep a step ahead of the environment.

      Relentless pursuit of weakness eventually strikes a chord with voters as long as this is about something substantive.

  7. PP wrote: ‘Actively aiming for consensus politics is for undemocratic one party states..’

    How so? Surely the opposite of a consensus policy is one supported only by a minority? How is that more democratic than a policy supported by the majority?

    Having read through the comments I can’t see what’s wrong with the council looking at de-investing in Barclays. They ought to be shown that there are consquences to pursuing tax avoidance.

  8. Never heard of a ‘hockey stick’? – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Climate Research Unit (CRU) at University of East Anglia (UEA) have computer models that show UKIP have been running the country since the middle ages – so can’t be far off the truth eh?

  9. Brian Fitch….George Galloway’s ‘mini-me’?

  10. “Let’s face it, there is not much that separates the different parties in Brighton and Hove.” (agree as far as parties on the council go).

    But not just in Brighton – Nationally – LIbLabCon – can’t get a fag-paper between them. Brightons Greens are no different they just want to shuffle a few extra quid out of taxpayer pockets into their silly pet projects. Not a radical bone in their bodies – either ‘wannabe professional politicians’ or out of their depth.

    Too scared to take control back from the super-directors and take real responsibility, just as LibLabCon are too scared to take control back from the EU nationally – keep all the trappings and benefits of office but let someone else do the work.

    Greens are doing what Labour did in power nationally ‘steady as she goes’, but with just enough bad tweaks to make it ‘steady as she goes onto the rocks’.

    10,000 kids in poverty? How many committees, subcommittees, partnerships, ‘third sector organisations’ etc are there now in place between a councillor and a kid in poverty – as if anyone cares. Just give someone a few more quid of taxpayers money, tick the box, note it for next election campaign and move on…

    The budget we got was 99% what the officers suggested – what was the point of the consultation? the discussion? the argument? all that time. money to get back where it started.

    A few more public sector beneficiaries pocketing taxpayers money for roles that they have made into non-jobs.

    • Your last paragraph is pretty inappropriate given the heading of the original blog.

      Today I am saying goodbye to a large swathe of colleagues at my own public sector organisation, many of them heading off to the dole queue. You are entitled to make sweeping assessments of the value of much public sector work, but please don’t try to pretend that there are ‘more public sector beneficiares’ at the moment, because there aren’t.

      • If your work has value – keep doing it and people will keep paying you to do it – won’t they? If not then you should be ashamed that people were forced to finance it in the first place.

  11. […] it is a self-defeating attitude to politics. Being keen readers and occasional commentators on a prominent independent political blog is still a very passive approach (link is to a much commented on post there, for illustrative […]

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