Do we have to accept that there will always be minority administrations in Brighton and Hove? by Andy Winter

Little changed in Brighton and Hove as a result of the local elections. Yes, the Green left of centre minority administration was ousted by a Labour left of centre minority, their share of seats roughly reflecting how many the other party had going into the elections. The Conservatives remained roughly where they were, a gain here, a loss there.

Congratulations and good luck to the successful candidates. Commiserations and thanks to those disappointed this time.

Labour and the Greens compete for roughly the same territory. Labour would have hoped to pick up a few extra seats, in Preston Park, Goldsmid and Hanover, whereas the Greens will be aiming to recover the seats they lost in these wards, and in Queens Park, next time.

Before the elections I forecast that the result would be 22 Labour, 22 Conservative, 10 Green. The actual result was 23 Labour, 20 Conservative and 11 Green. I hadn’t predicted the Labour gain in Westbourne or in Central Hove, nor the Green hold in Goldsmid.

So what could change? There are likely to be one or two by-elections. Some candidates, especially those elected unexpectedly, will not have thought about the huge demands there are on councillors, or those who had not realised that other aspects of their lives, particularly careers, must be put on hold for the duration of their terms of office. But even if a couple of seats change hands in by-elections, it won’t change the balance of power on the Council. The last Council saw only one seat change hands in four years, when Emma Daniel took a seat from the Greens in Hanover.

So, let’s look to 2019. Labour will hope to make further gains on the Greens. Depending on how Labour does as the new minority administration, they will benefit or be hindered next time. In a good year they would hope to hold on to what they have and definitely pick up the remaining Green seats in Goldsmid and Preston Park. Further inroads in the remaining strong Green-held wards of Regency and Brunswick and Adelaide are unlikely given this was as bad a bad year for the Greens as could be imagined, and in St Peters and North Laine the loss of this ward is unthinkable. Further Labour gains from the Conservatives are, also, unlikely (unless they can remove the Force of Nature than is Dawn Barnett and Co. in Hangleton and Knoll), and Labour will do well to consolidate their gains in Westbourne and Central Hove. Labour could, realistically, get to 25, possibly 26 seats in 2019.

The Greens will struggle to return to the heady heights achieved in 2011. They used to be a movement but they have become a political party (apart from Caroline Lucas who continues, exceptionally, to attract support from across the party political spectrum). The Greens might pick up a seat here or there, but many of the new Labour councillors are younger, energetic, and will be determined to strengthen, if not increase, their base.

That leaves the Conservatives. There will be some frustration, not least surprise, that seats were lost in Central Hove and, in particular, Westbourne. (On a personal note, I am sorry that my friend, Shaun Gunner, will not be a councillor, for now, at least. Regardless of the party he represents, Shaun is a thoughtful, hard-working and insightful politician. He will, one day, be a respected City Councillor). In a very good year for the Conservatives they will pick up seats in other areas, including in Moulsecoomb (it’s happened twice before) and in the Portslades. They could, just, reach the magic figure of 27, but it would have to be an exceptional year for them.

So in all likelihood, unless there are further demographic changes, or if there is a collapse of one of the three parties in Brighton and Hove, we are likely to see minority administrations for years to come.

Unless, of course, we have a winner-takes-all elected mayor …..!

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7 Responses

  1. I’d like to say that this could be the start of a ceasefire between local Labour and Green councillors, and see them unite against a common enemy in the form of the new government, but given past history, it seems unlikely. It was interesting to see Chris Hawtree on Twitter describing the council election as a “good election to lose”, in terms of the impending cuts of £100m that the new council will have to implement. Both parties are opposed (to a greater or lesser extent) to government austerity, and a united front would keep the Tories out of Brighton politics for a generation. I’m not suggesting any form of formal coalition (as these don’t seem to go particularly well for the minor parties!), but I think a lot of people would have more respect for a broad centre-left agreement than two parties with similar ideas sniping at eachother online for another four years.

    • Labour is not opposed to “austerity measures”. Ed Balls made clear that he would continue these. Will we see a local split in Labour similar to the one in 2001 with the rise of the “rebels” against the directly-elected Mayor? After all, Kevin Allen is back. News of which had Lord Bassam hastening to Timpson’s to get his iron heel repaired.

      • I’d be inclined to say Labour is certainly opposed to the austerity measures as laid out by the Tories, although it’ll be interesting to see what their new policy is on this post-leadership-contest.

        Regarding elected Mayors, will we get a referendum like in 2001? I can’t see Brighton & Hove voting ‘Yes Mayor’ unless it’s forced on the city from above…

  2. Very interesting.

    The thing nobody has mentioned is that the Government cuts to Local Authorities means that by 2019 the local scene will be very different. Labour will be in the wretched position of having had to cut another £100 million of services – dare I mention Hove Library? – and outsource them. Things are already down to the bone. This was a good Election to lose.

    Part of this process will be a reduction in the number of Councillors (which was already reduced from the 70-plus fifteen years ago). Selection to be a Councillor will become tougher – and so will the workload.

    And, in such circumstances, will that work have the individual satisfaction – something sorted – which makes up for the pervasive strife?

    Some while ago the Chief Executive made it clear that from this May onwards all Councillors would need to have their minds focussed on February’s Budget. This will be more horrifying than anything on the Palace Pier’s ghost train. With worse to come.

    One must wait to see whether the current minority Administration keeps to the Green innovation of announcing a draft Budget in November. Or will it revert to the old set-up of doing so a week before the February decision.

    It’s May now but November is but the blinking of an eye away.

    Believe me, Local Government means that the seasons blur, there is no let-up – and that could indeed bring By-Elections. I feel sure that many Councillors do not know what they have let themselves in for.

  3. Greens will enjoy the luxury of not holding power and so not being responsible for services cuts, bin strikes or other unpopular happenings until 2019. Brighton is a radical city, a little oasis of red/green among a sea of blue .Electoral churn and new student intakes will probably revive Green support when Labour is forced to run the city with austerity. So I agree with the writer of the blog that minority administrations are here to stay-probably. Tories applying austerity nationally will lose popular support and it will be hard for them to win in Brighton in 2019 -probably. Harold Wilson said a week in politics is a long time and so that is worth remembering. I’m pleased to see the blog revived. It was always an enjoyable read.

  4. Wanted: exceptional people to run for the job of councillor.

    Must have an aptitude for problem-solving (for ward residents and within the council itself) as well as enjoyment of such untanglings using terrier-like diligence and attention to detail.

    Must be service-minded, see the job as that of a servant and be willing to devote their lives, 24/7, 360 to the public’s needs – and I do not see accepting the shower of invitations to do’s and freebie tickets to events as doing this. Quite sickens me to see pages of photos of events showing cllrs bingeing on socialising, drink in hand.

    Must understand that grandstanding and oratory only get you attention. No message of worth; no result of substance: no votes.

    Must be able to call council officers to account BEFORE proposals make it onto committee agendas. This is the toughest qualification of all and two people who stood this May probably had it and failed to get elected: Neil Schofield and Richard Stanton. Neil is ex-DofT and Richard served under Ken Livingstone’s Mayoralty of London.

    Must have street by street territorial knowledge of the ward they wish to stand in. Consult Dawn Barnett on how to do this.

    Must be prepared to walk the ward and monitor its every twitch on a constant basis.

    Must have Peter Kyle’s serenity and smile and immunity from stress or stress-related tendency to lose patience.

    Think you have the physical stamina and intelligence to do this: apply to each political party as none of them has anyone who satisfies all these requirements and they need you. Policies are an optional extra.

  5. A good article, but I disagree with your assertion that the Greens aren’t a movement and the implication that they won’t pick up support from elsewhere. I know people who are ‘core value’ Tory and Labour who voted Green in the local elections, because they supported what they’d done while in administration.

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