‘Summersgate’ is simply poor politics

I think I have upset some of my Green friends over ‘Summersgate’. Last night I was challenged by Rob Jarrett to say what my views are on equal marriage. I responded to @RobHove as follows: “100% in favour of equal marriage, 100% disagree with Christina Summers, 100% think Greens have made massive error expelling her”.

Equal marriage isn’t the issue here. In fact it is not something that the Council has any power over. The issue is making an issue of an issue vaguely related to that issue, if you follow me. No? I’ve commented on the politics, not the equal marriage issue. The fact that we are still discussing the expulsion of Christina Summers from the Green Group is an indication, not of a very wide consensus in favour of equal marriage, but of poor politics.

Politicians must be on their guard to avoid simple traps that can destroy reputations, personally or for the party as a whole. Often it is down to arrogance or immaturity, and often a fatal combination of both. Look at the Conservatives. They are falling over backward to assert their support for the police following Andrew Mitchell and ‘Gategate’. It detracts from their message and has become something far more damaging than the incident itself warranted.

The Lib Dems, bless, carry many burdens: Nick Clegg, Tuition Fees, being Lib Dems. How impressed we all were with ‘I’m Sorry’, now gone viral on YouTube. ‘Sorrygate‘ has had more than a million hits in just four days. I prefer the ‘gate’ associated with the Lib Dems to be known simply as ‘lackinganymoralfibregate’ but then I am just plain mean.

Labour is burdened, and will be for a generation, with something far more serious, Iraq. No matter how reformed they become, even if Ed Miliband was to do his own version of ‘I’m Sorry’ it is still going to take a lot more before Labour will be trusted again on foreign policy. Coming into Government, Labour’s ethical foreign policy promised so much …..!

But back to the Greens on the City Council. Overall I think they are doing well but losing the PR war quite badly. They are not unique. All incoming administrations struggle after their initial honeymoon. How the Greens respond over the next 12 to 18 months will be critical. They need to focus on what they were elected to do. Local councillors, when all is said and done, are elected to ensure they deliver good local services. Are bins being emptied and the streets cleaned? Can their children get into the school of their choice? What do people think of library services? Where will their children and grandchildren live? Is there visible homelessness on the streets? How good is the bus service? Is there traffic congestion? What is the economic outlook for the area? And so on.

Of course much is beyond the control of local government with spending constraints being imposed on an unparalleled level, the banks refusing mortgages, the overall economy.

So, how do I think the Green Administration is doing. Overall, very well. There is a good feeling around Brighton. The streets are clean, the bins are emptied, sensible decisions have been made about safeguarding services to the most vulnerable. The attacks of Labour and Tory activists are predictable, and are not any more representative of the views of the general public than, say, the views of this humble blogger.

The Greens have won praise and respect for their approach to budget setting which is more open than anything that has gone before. Jason Kitcat and, before him, Bill Randall, are both well respected, as are many leading members of the administration. They haven’t been assisted by the turmoil, not of their making, within the officer class at the Council.

My advice to the Greens is to carry on as you have begun, engage more with people outside the Council (council officers are not your electorate), and please avoid any future silly own goals such as Summersgate.

I am sure that there are other issues that are bubbling away in the background. I am advised that a few Green councillors are exercised about prayers at council meetings. Nobody cares about prayers before meetings other than a few councillors. It doesn’t impact on the lives of ordinary people. If you are tempted to try to do something about them you will become a laughing stock rather than the serious political force that you have become through many years of diligent building and for which you have my respect.

The division within the Greens over Christina Summers’ expulsion

The Argus’s Tim Ridgway is fast establishing himself as an outstanding local government correspondent, and the Argus is the better paper for his reporting.

Not that the Greens will be thinking so this morning as Tim reveals the list of those Green councillors who signed the letter resulting in Christina Summers being expelled from the Green Group on Brighton and Hove City Council.

According to Tim, those who signed the letter were: Liz Wakefield, Rob Jarrett, Leo Littman, Phelim MacCafferty, Lizzie Deane, Sue Shanks, Christopher Hawtree, Ben Duncan, Sven Rufus, Mike Jones, Stephanie Powell, Amy Kennedy, and Ruth Buckley.

Those who did not sign were: Matt Follett, Bill Randall, Geoffrey Bowden, Ian Davey, Ollie Sykes, Alex Phillips, Pete West, Jason Kitcat, and Ania Kitcat.

I am personally disappointed with some who signed and pleasantly surprised by one or two who did not.

When histories are written of political administrations, the moment that an under-fire group turns on its own members is the moment that defeat becomes likely. The Greens still have time to reflect on what got them elected in 2011 and return to the campaigning political operation that so inspired many voters.

(Note: the original posting had Tim Ridgway as a “loyal government correspondent” now corrected to “local government correspondent” and the names of Geoffrey Bowden and Bill Randall had become fused as Geoffrey Randall. What a thought!)

East Brighton by-election candidates

The big beasts are lining up to contest the East Brighton by-election. First the Conservatives selected 18 year old Joe Miller, and now the Lib Dems have selected a relative veteran in Dominik Sokalski, a 20-year-old university student at Sussex University.

The Greens last nigh selected its candidate, Carlie Goldsmith, a fifth generation Brightonian who proudly grew up in Whitehawk, in the area, where she also brought up her own young family. She works as a criminologist specialising in youth crime and victimisation, community safety and the relationship between social inequalities and crime.

As yet, there is no news from UKIP, but in an attempt to cause a major upset, it might field the ever youthful, Paul Perrin who, rumour has it, is over 16 years old.

With the Lib Dems holding their conference in a telephone box on the sea front, and the Greens taking a daily pasting in the letters page of the Argus following their massive own-goal over Christina Summers, neither of these parties is likely to inconvenience the Returning Officer too much.

As for the Tories, they seem determined to insult even the police in this week of all weeks. One wonders how the two Posh Boys are being viewed by the Plebs of Whitehawk? (The one thing that amazes me about the Andrew Mitchell, with almost 80% of Telegraph readers thinking he should resign, is that he has survived this long).

And then there is the Labour candidate, Chaun Wilson, who we should refer to simply as ‘The Winner’. East Brighton is Labour’s strongest stronghold, thanks to the work of sitting councillors Gill Mitchell and Warren Morgan, and that of the recently resigned Craig Turton. The chances of Labour losing this seat is about as great as someone finding Nick Clegg’s backbone.

I look forward to seeing councillor Wilson in action. She will be a huge asset to Labour as it seeks to rebuild in time for the 2015 elections.

Are the Tories right to field an eleven year old in the East Brighton by-election?

A very interesting debate has been triggered by councillor Warren Morgan regarding the suitability of very young candidates in local elections. He has written in a personal capacity (and he emphasises not on behalf of the Labour Party) to Tory Kemptown MP, Simon Kirby, regarding the selection of an eleven year old (actually, he is 18) as the Tory candidate for the East Brighton by-election.

He wrote: “It is an immensely good thing that young people take an interest in politics, and feel able to get involved and stand for election; it’s something I actively encourage. Labour has a number of councillors who are in their late teens or early twenties, often in university towns where they have studied.

“However you have chosen an 18 year old who left sixth form only this summer to contest an election to represent one of the most deprived and difficult wards in the South East. As you will know from your casework, although crime has reduced and the vast majority of the eleven thousand East Brighton residents lead stable lives with steady jobs, there are unfortunately some people in East Brighton who are dealing with the consequences of domestic violence, alcohol or drug abuse, and homelessness. They often lead what are termed “chaotic lives” and have complex needs.

“Despite working for the police for four years prior to becoming a councillor, I have encountered many disturbing cases in my decade as a local representative. I’ve met a young girl whose mother was brutally murdered by her father. I’ve been to John Street police station in the middle of the night to address the potential community consequences of a fatal car accident in the ward. I’ve been briefed this week about a violent and unstable resident who has been threatening to his neighbours, council staff and police.

“Next May the changes to welfare support initiated by your government will have a severe financial impact on many vulnerable people in my ward; both of our casework loads are likely to rise as a result. Some people will face desperate financial hardship. Their cases can be distressing. They need to have councillors whose judgement and support they can rely upon and trust.

“I am sure the candidate you have chosen has many positive qualities, though his decision to use a photo of himself in fancy dress to launch his campaign does not bode well. However I would question your judgement in allowing someone so young and with such little life experience to run and potentially deal with the workload East Brighton councillors face. Of course we will be campaigning hard to elect our own, very well qualified candidate to the post, but I would urge you, before nominations close, to reconsider your choice.”

Interesting stuff, Warren. The are a couple of things I would ask you to ponder over your Sugar Puffs in the morning. You appear to say that there is something inherently different regarding East Brighton, the area you represent on the Counci, compared to, say, St Peter’s and North Laine or Rottingdean Coastal (wards where Labour themselves fielded teenage candidates Claire Calder and Harris Fitch at the last local elections). All wards have pockets of deprivation and challenging issues. I am not sure whether East Brighton is that different other than, perhaps, the scale of deprivation.

And secondly, are you saying that an 18 year old is not capable of making the judgements required of councillors? If that is the case, I think Labour needs to change its policies towards the armed forces where, under Labour and Conservative governments, 18 year olds are expected to make far more significant judgements – whether to take the life of another human being on the battlefield.

My Pal Paul Perrin has commented: “I think an 18 year old is almost certainly too inexperienced (in life) to be a good councillor, but the law is laid down by government and the selection rules by each party. There are also plenty of older people who would make lousy councillors.”

I say “Good luck” to Joe Miller. Enjoy the experience of being a candidate but don’t be too disappointed when either Chaun Wilson or Tracey Hill beats you on polling day. Your day will come, but probably not until you can grow a moustache of your own.

Tories select Phileas Fogg as its candidate in the East Brighton by-election

The Conservatives have been quick off the mark in the East Brighton by-election, having selected Joe Miller as its candidate. Known as @joeymick94 on Twitter, the Tories have gone young, very young, very very young. The 94 in his twitter handle does suggest that he was born in 1994. The Tories appear to have skipped not just one generation, but several generations of potential candidates.

An hour ago he announced on Twitter that he has been selected as the Tory candidate. He even posted this quite bizarre photograph which will no doubt come back to haunt him. It is probably a slightly worse photograph than that used by Caroline Penn when first selected for Labour. In that photograph it looked as though Caroline was posing in a poll dancing club, or what your humble blogger imagines a poll dancing club looks like. She hastily changed that photo but copies were made and if you ask very nicely I might just find an excuse to repost it.

So what chance does the Boy Joe have? About as much chance of him being able to buy a pint without proof of age. Perhaps the false moustache is intended to convey gravitas or perhaps he is simply a huge fan of Phileas Fogg.

Labour have short listed just two candidates, both of whom would make exceptionally good candidates and whoever is selected will be elected. Either Chaun Wilson or Tracey Hill will be an asset for Labour. Labour will announce tomorrow evening which one of these two women will be its candidate.

Holy Smoke! The Politics Blogger gets religion

Dearly Beloved Brethren

People seem to be getting their knickers in a twist over the role of religion in politics in Brighton and Hove.

Feeling the heat at the moment is the Green Party over its decision to expel Christina Summers from the Green Group. It is a decision in the finest traditions of the Spanish Inquisition and the intolerance of New Labour. But none of the main political parties have a clean record on religion.

Labour seems determined not to offend male Muslims, a legacy of Iraq (sorry Flo, that four letter word just won’t go away). In a foolhardy attempt to attract disillusioned Muslim voters, it turns a blind eye to misogynistic tendencies of some Muslim ‘leaders’. In Bradford it was Muslim women who led the anti-Labour protest by voting for Gorgeous George Galloway in the recent by-election.

The Conservatives have amongst their ranks more evangelical Christians than the other parties, evangelicals who wish to deny women the right to choose, preach the headship of men in the family, and who believe that homosexuality is a sin. Having said that, the Tory Party has changed and cannot be compared to the Party of Intolerance that introduced Section 28 in the 1980s.

The Greens, on the one extreme, have Christina Summers and, on the other, Ben Duncan who they narrowly avoided electing as Mayor in Brighton and Hove. He would have made it a badge of honour to stop prayers at Council meetings. That would have been a far greater distraction than the vote of a single councillor with outdated, irrelevant and discredited views.

It strikes me as ironic that the only reason why anyone is talking about Christina Summers and her views, having made her a martyr and causing the Green Party such damage, is because of a shortsighted, foolish decision to instigate action against her. Nobody thinks that she was representing anything other than her own views.

It is about time that politicians took a more mature approach to religion, speaking truth when religions are intolerant or oppressive, and ignoring religion the rest of the time.

Here endeth the lesson. Good night and God bless you all.

Christina Summers: My reaction to her expulsion from Green Group of councillors

Mistake. Big mistake.