Jason Kitcat defending the indefensible

It is nothing but outrageous, and in today’s Argus Green Council Leader, Jason Kitcat, defends the payment to councillors in Brighton and Hove allowances of £11,463. It is a disgrace and I am bitterly disappointed, nay shocked, that councillor Kitcat can defend the indefensible.

But unlike the Taxpayers Allowance, I think this figure is far too low. We expect a great amount from our councillors, and most put in more hours than the majority of us work. It isn’t just a matter of attending meetings, it is the community engagement, the case work, the background research, the attendance at community meetings, and so on. We expect them to have a broad vision for the City, to articulate policies, and to debate the issues of the day.

I think that councillors should be paid much, much more, perhaps three times the current amount, but I think there should be far fewer councillors. I would suggest a reduction from the current 54 councillors to, say, 20, with extra responsibility allowances for perhaps 5 or 6 of them – the Leader, the cabinet member/chair of 3 or 4 key portfolios, and the leaders of the opposition parties.

The current cost of allowances in Brighton and Hove, excluding special responsibility allowances, is around £620,000. The BPB alternative would cost £688,000, the difference being saved from the numerous special responsibility allowances that currently exist.

Councillors are important. At the last election we lost four young councillors who could not afford the time and career sacrifice that being a councillor entails. By paying councillors a decent salary, and contracting them to work a set number of hours (thereby allowing them to develop alternate careers and/or training) the quality of democracy would improve.

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Condemning the rent-a-mob antics of the anti-Traveller Tories

As my regular readers (Momma Grizzly, Doris and Biker Dave) know, I am a big fan of Thatcher’s Granny, councillor Dawn Barnett of Hangleton and Knoll. I like her style if not her politics.

But I was disappointed that she apparently led a group of 50 or so to disrupt a constituency surgery of the MP for Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas.

As a child I was always told that there are two areas of political neutrality. The first being the polling station where numbers are collected and shared by agents of each party. There is no political point-scoring and, if you have ever had the huge good fortune to team up on such an occasion with campaigner-extraordinaire, Christopher Hawtree, a fun time is had by all.

The second is the MP’s constituency surgery. This is a relatively modern creation, dating back to the 1970’s and created by theLiberal Party who were re-inventing politics with there concept of ‘pavement politics’. Roy Hattersley quotes one of his predecessors giving a pledge to return to the constituency every three months to report on his work in Parliament. The idea of MP’s becoming super social workers is new. Yet it is important part of their role, yet one that is under-resources necessitating the lovely Momma Grizzly to have a second job packing shelves at Asda.

The MP’s surgery allows constituents, many of whom are troubled, desperate, even distressed, to meet one of their elected representatives. There sometimes needs to be anonymity because of the sensitive issues that might be being brought.

Imagine then, if you will, the sight and noise of 50 protesters ‘dropping in’. Councillor Barnett had been led to believe it was a public meeting. It wasn’t. Mistakes happen and I am sure that had Dawn realised it was a surgery, she would not have disrupted it.

Similarly, councillor Brian Pidgeon was there. I wonder how his constituents from Patcham, who had come to see their MP, felt about him being part of this rent-a-mob.

Why was councillor Barnett there at all? It isn’t in her ward, not even in the constituency within which her ward is located. When I questioned why the People’s Mike was doing more in Brighton Pavilion than in his own constituency, I was told it was because Caroline Lucas wasn’t doing a good job. Anyone who has dealt with Ms Lucas knows that she is an extraordinary dedicated, hard-working and diligent constituency MP.

But I digress. Back to Thatcher’s Granny. Does she feel a need to intervene in the affairs of Patcham ward because the ward councillors are doing such a bad job? If so, Brian Pidgeon should have a word with his Conservative colleagues in Patcham, Geoffrey Theobald and Carol Theobald, rather than inconvenience ordinary citizens by interrupting the MP’s surgery.

The issue of travellers might be contentious, but it does not justify councillors Barnett and Pidgeon acting like lawless hooligans nor using local residents with a genuine, but perhaps ill-conceived, concern regarding Travellers as pawns in their highly politicised campaign against the Green Member of Parliament.

Dissenting voices should be welcomed by all parties

Politics, and party politics in particular, has a way to go to recover from the depths in terms of public credibility. Estate agents have been more trusted than politicians. I am not talking about expenses. I always thought that apart from excesses regarding duck ponds and moats, the debate about expenses was unfortunate. Elected politicians should be well paid and well resourced, equally so their support staff. Who would want to see Momma Grizzly having to seek out a second part time job down at Asda because she struggles to get by on the salary of a diary secretary for a Member of Parliament?

What has damaged politics is the party political system that favours party loyalists well above independent thinkers or those with experience beyond the political world. Too may special advisers, with no experience of the real world, get elected. The certain ending of political enhancement is to speak, let alone vote, with ones conscience.

This is particularly true in Westminster, but not unknown locally. Labour has a very sad record of stifling talent because it was ‘off message’. I am told that probably the brightest of all Labour councillors was Richard Stanton, a brilliant economist with a grasp of local government finance second to none, including council officers. He was kicked off the Council for his campaigning against the Poll Tax (as well as to settle a few scores for his support for the Troops Out of Ireland Movement).

More recently the likes of Joyce Edmond-Smith, Francis Tonks and Jack Hazelgrove found themselves at odds with the party establishment. How Labour would benefit from their likes again.

But all is not lost for Labour. Far from it. They have, in the wings, a number of excellent activists who have an element of independence of thought yet committed to the Party’s cause. To be successful in the local elections in 2015 the Labour Party will need to reach out well beyond its ranks and engage with those not yet supporters and, possibly more importantly, those who were once supporters, members and even activists.

The Green Party has achieved that over the past decade, attracting a broad base, from community activists (may I mention library campaigners?), LGBT campaigners, to traditional environmentalist types. It can cate unlikely bed-follows, if you pardon the expression, with the likes of Phelim MacCafferty and Christina Summers standing together, noted, under the same banner. Which is why I think the ‘process’ started against councillor Summers is ill-judged.  There is little the public likes less is the appearance of internal party divisions and the suppression of independent thought amongst elected representation.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives have created an eclectic group of councillors, from Tory-grandee types like Geoffrey Theobald to street fighters represented by Graham Cox. It is an uneasy coalition, one that ultimately could split. Indeed, where Labour has had the foresight to create a single district party, the Tories remain divided between the Hove and Brighton Pavilion association on the one had and the Kemptown association on the other.
But where the Conservatives appear weak is the damning of each and everything that the Greens say. Their opposition, and the of their MP’s , to everything the Green Administration does, weakens them since, frankly, I am bored of the press releases put out in the name of Mike Weatherley by Momma Grizzly and the other Bright Young Things between their shifts at Asda.

Some Labour activists fall into this trap as well. I would rather hear positive stories from Labour about their plans and policies. I have enough independence of thought to make my mind up about how the Green Administration is doing. Perhaps Labour could produce and widely consult on a range of policies that could form the basis of its 2015 manifesto. But if it is to do that, it must be more than lip-service, and party officers should not be looking for approval from their masters in Westminster.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (not forgetting the buses)

Planes, Trains and Automobiles was a 1987 film starring John Candy and Steve Martin. Twenty five years later we could be in for a remake set in Sussex called Trains, Buses and Automobiles. These are issues that could influence the 2015 general and local elections.

The Government has announced that rail fares are going up by more than the rate of inflation for the tenth year in a row. Why is Mike Weatherley not press releasing his support for his government? He knows that this is a source of increasing anger for commuters. Caroline Lucas was quick off the mark, along with one of the Green’s European Parliament candidates, Alex Phillips, leafleting at Brighton Station and appearing on the local news.

Public transport, and trains in particular, is the remit of Norman Baker, the Lib Dem/Conservative Coalition MP for Lewes. The good news for Stormin’ Norman is that rail fare increases will have little impact on his chances of re-election because he is already toast. We haven’t forgotten his written pledge to oppose increases in tuition fees, and then voted to support such increases. (Old joke: what is smaller than the Higgs Bossom god particle? A Lib Dem’s backbone).

Labour has done well on the buses, scoring a couple of direct hits on the Greens. That should serve them well in a couple of wards, although these wards are already Labour held or in the case of Rottingdean Coastal solid Tory. It is fortunate that come 2015 the octogenarian Brian Fitch will step up his campaigns to save the threatened numbers 5, 49, 27, 81, 26 and 50. What would help Labour is if the party at a national level came out with a bold policy saying that it will increase subsidies for local bus and train routes in order to get people out of their cars and onto public transport.

Automobiles, and in particular parking of such, will be an issue in the locals in 2015. Tories and Labour continue to make hay about the downturn in visitor numbers and blaming the increase in parking charges. I am not so sure if that is the whole picture. The Olympics, the ‘summer’ and the economic downturn are likely to have been more significant factors.

The People’s Mike hasn’t been completely quiet, writing to the City Council’s outgoing Chief Executive, John Barradell, urging greater provision for bikers. Is this a huge vote winner in Hove Park where Labour is campaigning energetically? I am told that Labour had an “amazing day in Hove Park. No exaggeration, we were really surprised how many Labour votes there were – and disaffected Tories”. Mike will certainly be relying on the Hell’s Angels Chapter of this parish for his re-election. He certainly can’t rely on the commuters.

Highlighting the commitment of Mike Weatherley MP to the people of Brighton Pavilion

From time to time my Labour and Green friends say to me: “You know what, Bappy, you hardly ever comment of the local Conservatives. Are you sure you are not a closet Tory by any chance?” If the truth be told, the answer is …. no.

So I thought I would reflect today on the work of Mike Weatherley, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Brighton Pavilion. (Shurley shum mishtake – Ed).

Now, a great myth of our time is that Mike is MP for Hove, something the Argus has consistently reported. Now there is evidence to support my claim. I had a look at the website of The People’s Mike and carried out a forensic analysis of the press releases he has put out for the two months of June and July. I looked at how many related to Hove, and how many to Brighton Pavilion.

Of the 41 press releases, just 5 were directly about Hove (travellers in Hangleton, a local restaurant being commended in a House of Commons curry competition, the Olympic torch visiting Hove, opposing development at Toad’s Hole Valley, and a petition to do with Medina House).

There were four other press releases that indirectly related to Hove (experience of commuters at Victoria Station, warning about a Council Tax scam, a call for better maps at bus stops, and a parliamentary motion supporting local shops). But each of these equally applies to Brighton Pavilion.

And then there is his fascination of all things Brighton Pavilion. He has put our 8 press releases about Brighton Pavilion – 60% more than those put out about Hove. He talks about the Brighton Toy Museum, travellers at Horsdean (Patcham), Jubilee protests in central Brighton, the Horsdean travellers site (again), a trip to Brighton Museum, Portas Money for London Road, the eviction of squatters in Middle Street, and a government initiative supporting Malpass Meats Direct (and the Big Lemon in Brighton Kemptown).

The remaining 28 press releases either have nothing directly to do with Hove (or Brighton Pavilion). So move over, Caroline Lucas, and stop pretending that you are the duly elected representative of the people of Brighton Pavilion.