‘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.

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51 Responses

  1. Are you living in the same City BPB? Cant drive to town too expensive. Cant get bus to town as too expensive and never turns up. Grass is overgrown on Lewes Road so you cant see to cross the road and there are travellers everywhere.

    • Boy, are you living up to your name? Roads are quieter, buses ok although I agree they are too expensive (not Council’s fault) and I really like the inner city wild life zone along the Lewes Road! As for travellers, I understand that there might be a national housing crisis …..

  2. Grumpy has it right as far as I have seen/heard.

    Does any one know a single person who has switched to the greens since they were elected? The main message has been ‘told you so’ from those who voted non-green and ‘never again’ from those who did.

    Turning dual carriageway into single is madness – any incident and all and all traffic stops. When the hard lanes are ripped up after the greens are booted out, the huge cost will be the legacy they are remembered by.

  3. This isn’t the first time a political party has mistakenly selected a candidate who turned out to be an embarrassment. Nor is it the first time poor candidates have found themselves elected on the back of a larger than expected swing. (Consider the unfortunate case of Ivor Caplin, for instance.)

    I hope the Greens (and Labour) are learning the real lesson from this debacle, which is the need for robust internal democracy, so that serious political differences are brought out and discussed openly at the right moment (during the selection process, not in the council chamber) and candidate selection is about finding the best people to represent the agreed views of the local party (at whatever level the election is being held), not just scraping together enough people to fill a slate.

    • My 23rd Sept. comment, mentioning Ivor Caplin’s shocking indiscretion, still “awaiting moderation” – seems a long time…

  4. I think the problem is that the scale of the cuts means that clean streets, bins being emptied, good libraries, good care for the vulnerable will not exist and that is the legacy residents will remember the Greens for.

    I’m afraid they have not grasped the reality of the financial situation and on from that decided where they wish to take the city and how. They are rudderless and instead becoming more concerned with their ever poorer image.

    I don’t think the Greens have the stomach for making difficult decisions and we will see more fall outs and more turmoil between different groups of residents and the Greens, with the other parties and the Greens, and within the Greens.

    The public committee meetings are showing the scale of absolute hostility and at one about the mobile library the Greens looked scared, bewildered and, to be honest, a bit pathetic, whilst the other parties and press groups jeered at them.

    I know the circumstances for them are particularly difficult but there is a need to start to step out of the tribal politics they have become trapped in, see the bigger picture for the city and think of how the majority of residents will remember them. So, far its parking charges, cuts to buses and a leader with a funny name

    • I think you meant ‘pressure’ groups and there was only one that jeered and those people were the Harry Spilman (Labour activist)-led mobile library supporters.

      Do have a look at the saveHOVE post on Notice of Motions and the consequences for the Greens concerning ‘Summersgate’ as BPB dubs it (including comment about what happened to them at Economic Development and Culture because the joint opposition votes outnumbered the Green votes

    • I saw Cllr Brian Fitch the next day and said to him that I thought there had been some posturing by him (and by M Mears) over the Mobile debate (which I watched from the audience). That is, if his intention had been to introduce an amendment, which amounts to three more months’ work, taking it into the next Budget, why didn’t he do so earlier in the debate rather than hold up the patient Bowling crowd for ninety minutes?

      I think one can josh Cllr Fitch amiably enough – but, that said, my abiding memory of the Culture meeting is his extraordinary assertion that “officers bully Councillors”.

      That can’t have won him many friends.

      And, in my experience, talk with officers is very much one of debate.

      • ….and then you do as you’re told….even if its wrong (like noting the Medina House petition presentation when you had 2 other options printed in your Agenda papers).

  5. Back to BPB’s main points-the Greens are doing well running the City but have awful PR failures not the least being Summersgate:

    1) The budget was supposed to show inclusivity but due to poor public involvement/cost of professional presentation was a PR failure
    2) Changing leader so soon hinted at splits/divisions
    3) The traveller issue has been brilliantly exploited by Hangleton’s Tory Boudicca-another Green PR and policy disaster
    4) Business Parking Charges-another PR disaster
    5) Summersgate: the Green group was fairly evenly split with the majority taking a Bolshevik anti-conscience stance( a major PR disaster)
    6) Emptying bins satisfactorily in 2012 won’t cut much mustard in 2015
    7) Westbourne by-election showed state of popularity of Greens in power
    8) Greens ought to have been crucified by now if only
    the opposition were sharper and not suffering their own problems(eg C Cooke)

    • To that I’d add:
      9) Implementing cuts to bus services which now require children to change 3 times to get to school
      10) Continued disappointing rates of recycling
      11) The unacceptable behaviour of Green members such as self styled “Scrapper” Duncan. No councillor has yet distanced themselves from his vile and bullying blog
      12) Wasteful expenditure such as the Brighton station gate-way consultation – scrapped by Jason Kitcat when he didn’t like the results
      13) Planning to build on Toads Hole Valley, despite a manifesto commitment to the protection the urban fringe
      14) Allowing Ben Duncan to continue uncensored when calling Christianity a cult and making jokes about rape, but hounding Cllr Summers.
      15) Make election manifesto promises to build new local schools, but still have no plans to deliver after 18 months in power

      • Foot fall down, visitors down, shops closing, but we have bus lanes but cut direct buses, cycle lanes virtually un-used (even in summer)-‘stuff the old, infirm, unfit, needs to get somwhere not covered in sweat or rain soaked, or not in central brighton…

        Greens seem to have their own dirtyy tricks dept, targeting themselves!

      • Centrefold spread in the Argus on the 19th about the Southeast and South in Bloom awards for parks, gardens, etc. showed Brighton and Hove as conspicuously unrewarded. Only Brunswick Town (community garden by the Old Market that EBRA look after) got a silver gilt for urban community and Rottingdean did well with the Kipling garden/park.

        In a ‘Green’ city you would expect a clear prioritising of green spaces but we are shown up badly.

        Have a look at Victoria Gardens then and now here and weep:
        http://brightonbits.blogspot.co.uk/

        All the Greens cared about for The Level was the social use – not the green value and use . Look at the webcast of their comments.

    • Back in 1986 the Labour Party won control of Brighton Council for the first time, winning half the seats and relying on the mayor’s casting vote. Not as difficult as the Greens’ minority position, but not ideal. David Lepper became the council leader – the right man for the job. A year later he resigned to be replaced by the awful Steve Bassam.

      It was a shame, but I don’t recall any criticism of Mr Lepper for doing that. An honourable man, he had decided that he should move on and leave the job to someone else. Pretty much what Bill Randall did 25 years later, really.

  6. We should all thank Valerie for taking the initiative and creating a Roster system for Question Time on Thursday that will empower us to ask Questions efficiently, I have been busy so far today looking at pictures of Johnny Depp on the internet, and not had time to familiarise myself with correct question requirements. I am happy to reschedule my meetings tomorrow to undertake a training session on ‘Question Time’ and think we should all go as Valerie has taken the time to hire upstairs at the ‘Pussycat Club’.She feel’s it would be quite helpful if prior to the Question session to have a kind of Powerpoint presentation and some nice colourful graphs like Cllr Kit-Cut uses for the Green Meetings. She wants me to bring bring my own rubber gloves though which is odd.

  7. The reality is that local government has very limited powers nowadays, and so has to make the most of what choices it has. If Labour or the Tories had won in May 2011 then 95% or more of what the Authority does would be exactly the same as it is now. What you do with the 0-5% is how you will be judged. In recent years we have seen Labour run the Authority(s) and make significant improvements, albeit in far better financial times under a Labour government, and the Tories at least hold things together as the belt tightened.

    It is therefore particularly disappointing that the Green Party have made such a hash of the limited amount of control that they have. When you are having to implement policies that you fundamentally oppose you need all the friends you can get. The Green Party have alienated the supporters they need to see them through the difficult times ahead, particularly with Summersgate, which is a completely self-inflicted wound. Some Councillors, to their credit, appear to have recognised this, but a majority appear determined to exhibit a political naivety that is so out of place in the present circumstances.

    I think that people would understand the position of the Council in relation to facing the ConDem cuts if the Council was clearly focussed on minimising the effect of the cuts, rather than self indulgently thinking that your own intrnal party issues are more important and worthy of their time and effort.

    • I am having trouble with the one-sentence thrust of your final paragraph (and shouldn’t “was” be “were”?). I should have made several sentences of it. And added a reference to Virginia Woolf (just to pre-empt your sneers).

      • Christopher, you are illustrating Dr. Faust’s point if you did but know it! The Greens are focussed on everything except what is required of them. You were not elected to give grammar and composition lessons.

  8. Does “their” mean “Council”? In which case it’s “its”? I keep trying to make sense of that sentence. Spell out what you are on about.

    • You do realise that only you give a monkeys about such trivia don’t you?

      If you understand something well enough to correct it, then it has already served its purpose.

      In the past, insecure people might be cowed into silence if made to appear uneducated, but now it makes the accuser like a complete t*sser.

      • Most punctuation and grammar errors result from knocking out fast comments without correcting them meticulously and methodically for posterity. Rather have a good comment than……….

    • It took me a few goes but I think the wording should be “I think that people would understand the position of the Council in relation to facing the ConDem cuts if the Council was clearly focussed on minimising the effect of the cuts, rather than self indulgently thinking that their own internal party issues were more important and worthy of people’s time and effort.”

      • It’s complete bollocks anyway. Everyone agrees the Summers affair was an unwanted distraction, but the Green Party was bound by its own democratic procedures, no bad thing.

  9. Mr Hawtree, as my local councillor, I have no doubt you are doing a better job then many of your Group. You have certainly added some much needed colour to council proceedings.

    However, I must take issue with your continued use of pedantry, intellectual snobbery and condescension as a diversion form of political criticism. Debate should surely rise above whether someone correctly uses “there” or “their”.

    In your role as councillor, you should recognise that many of our city’s residents will have issues with literacy. I hope you don’t judge them as harshly as our esteemed contributors here.

  10. I’m with the pedant Hawtree on this one.

    He may seem a bit extra-terrestrial at times but he understands the importance of language. Most of all he appreciates the advice of George Orwell that if we get sloppy or inattentive about the precise meaning of words then we let the obscurantists and the politically intolerant win the day.

    Strange then that he acts as a representative of the people who are just quite simply the worst local example of this sort of abuse of the English language. Greenspeak, particularly in the hands of Lucas and the Kitcat regime rivals anything you will find in ‘1984’.

  11. Isn’t the real concern here the distraction? Which in itself stems from an overestimation of the power of a local council and local councillors.

    As citizens we may well have views on foreign policy, equal marriage, Pooh Bear and trifles (of the custard kind). And that’s right. But those aren’t what we should preoccupy ourselves with.

    Our city has serious matters to attend to and we need serious people to attend to them, without minimal partisanship, where possible. I’m not seeing any of that from the Greens. I don’t think they agree amongst themselves about what the City needs. Is consensus in their DNA? They need to find it as a minority admin.

    I don’t accept Bappy’s assessment. A city that was coasting (at best, no pun intended) is now stalling. Our low carbon and environmental credentials aren’t getting better and there is a real risk of ridicule. The Greens need to be honest about our atrocious emissions and recycling record as a city, for starters.

    I’d welcome a sense of mission from the Greens. It’s time for them to tell us what a Green council actually stands for so we can make an assessment whether we can get behind it. As it stands, I can only see chaos, incompetance and (most worryingly) internal bickering.

    • I agree with Dan and support his concerns. The problem is that the Greens did say what their plans were in a manifesto in 2011, they never thought that they would have to implement them and many did not add up. Now that they are in power they are having to try and stand by previous statements or make u turns and broken promises. I am still waiting for a proper school in Hove not just adding huts to existing cramped sites. Yet it can not be delivered due to Green ideology and Conservative dictate.

      The Greens are permenantly undertaking Consultations at great expense to try to solve the question of what should we do ? or to make sure that they have some support. However when they do get a response they disagree with they go back out to consultation it is a process of elimination and few people can be bothered. So we get a skewed response. If they have lost one councillor and she stays as an independent then do the rifght thing asap and redress the inbalance of the committee membership they are now a minority, minority administration and need to face up to the consequences of their actions

    • But when they bring forward initiatives to tackle emissions and recycling, they are attacked for promoting “pet projects”.

      I think their achievements so far have been mixed. They are clearly an inexperienced group who have had to work hard to get anything done in the face of savage government cuts, vicious opposition within the council and senior managers with their own agendas.

      This business with Christina Summers has been damaging, but not as much as their inability to make a clear stand against the cuts.

      But I think they have been admirably bold on the key issue of transport. At long last there is a clear plan to improve the horrendous Vogue gyratory and do something to make Lewes Road more tolerable for cyclists and pedestrians. The new proposal for the station gateway is exciting, and opening up the North Laine for two way cycling is just common sense if we are serious about reducing emissions. The new cycle lane on the Old Shoreham Road is the kind of high quality infrastructure we need to make a real difference to the way people travel around the city.

      Using differential parking charges as way of discouraging people from driving into the centre of town also makes sense.

      The sad truth is that anyone trying to run a local council at the moment has an impossible task. A Labour administration in Brighton & Hove would have done pretty much the same as this administration has, possibly cutting different things, but cutting nonetheless. That’s what all the Labour councils in the rest of the country have done. That’s why Labour in Brighton & Hove are relying so heavily on personal attacks and purely negative campaigning.

  12. It is clear that language is a concern. Witness the many comments here about it. Indeed, at Planning the other day I mentioned that Brighton and Hove are the “world centre for punctuation”. A resident, Lynne Truss, wrote a book on punctuation, and was pleased when the publisher printed 15,000 copies first off – and even more pleased when it sold three million copies. There’s gold in them there semi-colons.

    As for Mr Wilson’s assertion, he ignores things in prospect (takes time to get large projects underway) and I am excited by the pilot scheme for bringing commercial-waste collection back in house. Absurd to have queues of trucks to collect a bin or two apiece depending on the company – and it then costs the Council to sort out the mess they make of it with unlockable trash bins etc.

  13. Whatever C H – aka “Mr Pastry” is on, i would like some of it.People in the rest of Britain must kill themselves laughing when they read about the things that the Brighton chattering classes think, say and do. Barking sums it up.

  14. I chortle at the cheap abuse – including the assertion that I am “brainwashed” and a senior Council officer is “wicked” – but I found it extremely interesting that this afternoon, at Housing, on which I substituted, along with Sue Shanks, that there is cross-party support to bring progress to matters upon which many people depend. There was to be a presentation on more of this afterwards (about which Sue and I had heard earlier). So much is in progress.

    As for matters linguistic, I suggested at the meeting that Councillor Peltzer Dunn, as is his wont, should highlight the unfortunate misprint on the first page. Much laughter.

    Banter aside, i was cheered by the fact that we can start to make progress – and indeed to cut through the hurdles. There was some emphasis by Leigh Farrow on this.

    Things are happening.

  15. Interesting to see Christina’s page on the council website to see what her duties now consist of. Date of changes: 17.9.12 and whilst labelled ‘Independent’ she still sits on outside bodies (an Annual Council thing) as a Green Party representative!

    Ironically, she remains on two committees that deal with proper Green issues, even though cast out by the Greens. A message in there suggesting she is trusted to actually BE a Green voter.
    http://present.brighton-hove.gov.uk/mgUserInfo.aspx?UID=10442

  16. I have always found it difficult in almost every circumstance to follow the logic of Ms. Paynter’s interventions particularly in my various previous incarnations when she used to do a lot of shouting at me. She is not exactly a devotee of the clarity of argument, or commited to the notion of consistency.

    However I write with the best of intentions to warn her that the use of the split infinitive and gratuituous capital letters in just the one concluding sentence will not escape the beady eye of pedant Hawtree. Is she seeking to escalate unnecessarily the dispute about the precise use of language by her abuses? If so can I suggest she desists. The Pedant will win. And none of us wants that.

  17. Cllr Hawtree bang on about business waste collection. Have sympathy for Greens. Unprecedented 25% cut in govt grants and hammered by hypocritical press and opposition parties at every turn. My advice is be bold and stick to principles. Pedestrianise and price motorists off road. People who live in city are choking to death just to save motorists a few pence

  18. I also think Greens were right to kick Summers off party grouping. She is still allowed in party which is also correct. It is sad someone with her views was selected as a candidate in the first place though. To say Gay people cannot be allowed to marry in churchs that want to marry them is scandalous. In my opinion it is bigoted and the Greens are progressive party. No place for bigots.

  19. I think the blogger is probably right that, as a purely political calculation, the expulsion was a mistake, and one that the administration will have to learn to live with. I would like to think that, had Cllr Summers refused all interviews after the deed was done, telling the media that this was an internal matter, then the decision might have been different.

    Also agree with the blogger on the general record of the Green administration, and its PR deficiencies. The last thing they must do is develop a bunker mentality.

    On the Labour side I have heard some rubbing of hands with glee, and the proclaiming of the return of two-party politics (as if that were a good thing in itself). This seems, to say the least, premature, especially as they have yet to develop a convincing narrative about what, precisely, they would do differently at a local level.

    In this connection, Faust makes a very sound point above about the serious constraints under which local government works. This is why the opposition attacks are for the most part so feeble. A good example of this is the Tories’ latest wheeze about making Norton Road carpark free at weekends. What, when everyone else, in every other ward has to pay? In terms of opportunistic, uncosted crap, this is right up there with anything the Greens came up with when they were in opposition.

    Neil Harding – good to see you post on here. I’m a keen reader of your blog – can’t work out how to post on though. Maybe you’re better off that way!

  20. I looked in here, found that the Blogger had not ventured upon new territory and that the comments had halted. I rather think that, with summer’s end, and well into autumn, thoughts have moved on. Budget to 2015 is here. Across the board there are many preoccupations, no one Councillor can expect events to turn around him/her. So much with which to contend, but so much that can be achieved. At the last Full Council there was a bizarre, hate-filled “attack” on me by Geoffrey Theobald but I remain certain I had done the right thing.

  21. Well bless you Christopher.

    You know I am one of your great admirers as you pursue the use of clarity in the use of English. But not sure I can understand a word of what you saying here or the meaning you intend. Probably both of us have just got in from a tiring and tedious Council meeting. Certainly, in desperation, I have certainly just opened the second bottle.

    But nonethless can I take the opportunity to say that many of us so admire the work you are doing pulling the various factions of the Green Party together? As the convenor of the extra-terrestrial faction it must be very difficult for you to reconcile the claims of the Vulcanite (Lucas tendency Bolshevik M-L) with the demands of the Terrans in your party led by distinguished Politburo member Comrade Kitcat. And the thought of how you also cope with and seek to embrace the ultra-left deviationism of the Duncanite heresy just fills us with yet more admiration.
    We can only hope that the clearance of the Level as a landing site for UFOs and the establishment of the new inter-planetary communication facility under the ice rink at the Pavilion this Christmas will make your task easier and give you more room for manoeuvre.

    In the meantime let us all hope that we don’t take life too seriously.

    • Not sure that I quite get your drift either, Ms Gunn. I thought mine clear enough. Events, events, the caravan moves on…. as with any subject, there’s only so much that can be said on the Councillor Summers one. It is not the main one, so much else is happening, but there is no doubt that it was vexing, absorbing on all sides. But today I have been pondering nine other subjects.

      • Too right there’s lots to ponder, is the blogger on sabbatical? There’s a by election next week and lots of activists are pounding the streets, yours truly included. Labour are motivated and taking nothing for granted.

  22. I hear that Labour has been vexed by Green posters in East Brighton windows.

    • Labour is not vexed by Green posters, it would be interesting if all the poster displayers voted Green rather than displayed to stop being visited by a Green campaigner! In 3 days a week campaigning myself I have yet to see Green and Blue activity. Labour out everyday, with large groups of actiivists getting positive support, roll on Thursday and an increased majority for our excellent candidate, reduced votes for the Greens and Blues. The message should be heeded

      • We are obviously too quick for you, Mr Jenner.

        Meanwhile, my favourite moment in the campaign was yesterday, when, on certain street, a jovial man came out to use his cellphone. He saw me, took a leaflet, and I told him about imminent vote. He said that he goes to bed at nine o’clock. I said that’s perhaps unusual for the area. He replied, “I’m in construction, and get home, have a shag, then a good eat and a couple of cold ones”. I replied, ‘well, obviously enough, if you find time to go out on Thursday and vote Green, that will improve the shagging – a sense of purpose, added prowess…”. He nodded, and replied, “I see what you mean.”

        I inferred from this that he was impressed by the way that all the steps, up and down, were no obstacle to the Greens. A Green vote is spinach incarnate.

        This was perhaps the most unexpected dialogue since the rainy evening in Central when a naked woman came to a basement door and uttered the immortal phrase, “I was expecting somebody else”.

        It’s always amazing to me the discussions one has on doorsteps, and Lord Bassam’s bile during this campaign has inspired me to go out many more times than I had expected.

      • I’ve met some lovely people out canvassing in East Brighton. It’s been a real pleasure. At one point last Saturday it started hailing & we were invited to take shelter in someone’s house – all 8 of us!

        My favourite sight has been the man who walks his cat on a lead near Sussex Square. Not something you see in Hove.

        Good luck to everyone tomorrow.

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