The Return of the Brighton Politics Blog 

The Brighton Politics Blog was published anonymously between 2009 and 2012 when its primary contributer, Andy Winter, accidently outed himself to Charlotte ‘Chuck’ Vere.

Following a period of intense frustration over the election period, and unrelenting demands from both our regular readers (Doris and the much missed Biker Dave), it is being relaunched in May 2015. All posts will normally be attributed to their author, and the scurilous style that characterised its earlier manifestation will be less in evidence although we still intend to have some fun.

The views expressed on the blog will not necessarily be sensible or coherent, and may offend. They will also not necessarily be representative of the views of the editors who, themselves, often disagree. We will ocassionally invite contributions from people with wide-ranging political views.

You can follow the blog on Twitter

Brighton Politics Blogger

After the nasty attacks on Christopher Hawtree, I am considering closing down this blog

I have seriously considered closing down this blog over the last few days.  I have several reasons for this but uppermost in my mind is the tone of the debate over libraries and, in particular, the nasty personal attacks on councillor Christopher Hawtree.

The library issue, as with everything to do with the budget of Brighton and Hove City Council, is fraught with difficulties, and ethical dilemmas for those involved. But attacks on an individual’s integrity is not acceptable.

We should also remember that no party is immune from some culpability in what is happening:

  • The Tories and Lib Dems are imposing cuts of 35% on the City Council. There are alternatives, but this is a government with an ideological commitment to cutting government. That is a political choice.
  • Labour failed to maintain confidence of the electorate, are not mobilising opposition, are more interested in who should lead their party, and they are failing locally and nationally to provide a viable alternative to the cuts agenda.  Nationally, their political choice is to make cuts but not as quickly.
  • The Greens have made the political choice to form the administration locally, and to best manage the level of cuts imposed on them.

Within each party there are honourable people trying to do their best.  For many it is a question of compromise which, after all, is the most common feature of politics.  For some, it might lead to resignation.

I find it unacceptable to question, in such personal terms, the integrity, morality, even the mental health, of someone who is struggling with issues. I can only conclude that those who indulge in this political form of bear baiting have no positive policies or proposals of their own. It says more about them than the target of their vitriol.

We are fortunate to have the likes of councillor Hawtree in Brighton and Hove, just as we are fortunate to have the likes of the Hangleton Twins (Barnett and Janio) and many others who sacrifice a great deal to stand to become and then serve as councillors. Let us start all debate by recognising this, and then, by all means, question the policies being implemented, but keep the debate about policy, priorities and alternatives, or as Craig Turton always says, stick to the ishoos. 

I once referred on this blog to Thumper from Bambi who said “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say anythin’ at all”.  There are some who could learn from Thumper.

I am still considering whether or not to close down this blog.

It is time to stop, once and for all, the nonsense of local council’s ‘Standards Committees’

I have written before about the Standards system in local government, how undemocratic it is that a panel made up of opposition councillors and non-elected individuals can sit in judgement on elected councillors, even depriving the electorate of one of their representatives.

This is not a party political issue, and I have rallied to the defence of both Green councillor Jason Kitcat and the Matriarch of Hangleton and Knoll, Dawn Barnett.  Not just that, but future Tory Leader, Grant Shapps, tweeted in support of Jason!  Jason was accused of posting selected extracts of video from council meetings featuring Tory councillor Geoffrey Theobald.  It must be stated that the People’s Geoffrey did not support the actions taken by one of his fellow Conservatives.

The Matriarch, it has been reported, was referred to the Standards Committee for handing out leaflets directing travellers camped in her ward to open spaces in wards held by Green councillors.  While I do not like the tone of much of the anti-traveller debate, I thought that what the Matriarch did was imaginative touched with humour.  She made her point very well.  It was rumoured that it was a Green councillor who made that referral but I am yet to see any firm evidence to confirm this. I have previously written about Dawn’s “sheer cheek”.

Jason’s case was thrown out while Dawn’s has gone quiet (although I may have missed developments during my two month sabbatical in Italy over the summer.

The latest fiasco relates to Ben Duncan, the Green councillor for Queens Park, cabinet member for public protection and representative of Brighton and Hove City Council on the Sussex Police Authority.  An anonymous complaint was made against him about posts on his blog and for attending various demonstrations.  The investigation took over a year and found that he had done nothing wrong.  I have previously posted on Ben Duncan’s case.

Quoted in the Argus he said it was wrong for standards procedures to be used to complain about people’s opinions.  “It is an abuse of the system and a waste of public money. This must have cost thousands of pounds. The standards board should be used to tackle allegations of real wrongdoing. It is not just that there is nothing wrong with expressing an opinion on policing, you could say if you’re not doing that you’re not doing the job properly.”

The implication of this case, more so that the cases of Jason and The Matriarch, would have been more sinister had it been found that Ben had been in the wrong. It would mean that a councillor could not be involved in certain activities, in this case, anti-way activities.  It would have meant that only those with more conventional views would be allowed to serve on the Police Authority.  What would be the point of that? 

I recall a Conservative councillor once saying to me that he wished that Labour wouldn’t be so political on the Council, that the Conservatives were apolitical in local government!  I got it, you are only political if you disagreed with the status quo.  Thank goodness for The Boy David, his mate Boy George and Little Nick, standing up for the status quo, and doing it, if I may say so, very well indeed.

Focusing on the issues is so much better than personality politics …. sometimes

I agree with Craig (a variation of the theme ‘I agree with Nick’). Craig Turton, from time to time, criticises this blog for not dealing with the ‘isshoos’, as he says Tony Benn says it.

When, the other day, I posted on the protest camp in the Old Steine, I anticipated comment from the usual suspects, perhaps even from all four of my regular readers (Warren, Grizzly, Doris and Councillor Christopher), but there have been more comments than on any other post ever! Sadly, the tone of one or two comments reflect the intellectual calibre of those who leave comments on the Argus website (pond life). So I agree with Craig. This blog will focus more on issues (although I think many readers do enjoy the personality stuff as well!).

There are a number of pressing issues at the moment, many on a national scale. They are well covered elsewhere, although there is often a local dimension, such as the campaign to protect legal aid which is gathering pace. On the legal aid campaign, there is an excellent website and video and an online petition to sign.  I would encourage you to do so.  Even the Brighton Argus is taking up this issue, there is a strong editorial opposing the proposed cuts. Sometimes an issue such as this can gain momentum and could destabilise the reputations of MPs on the government benches, in our case, Simon Kirby and Mike Weatherley.

What are the other isshoos locally?  There is the Green Party agenda – housing, ‘ethical estate agents’, ‘Meat-free Mondays’, food recycling, ‘retrofitting’ homes (making them more environmentally sound, to you and me), the right to protest.  No doubt Paul Perrin of UKIP will find a reason to say these matters are a European/Green international conspiracy.  In all seriousness, having spoken to senior Greens, the economy of Brighton and Hove is an important issue, not least bringing in appropriate inward investment.  For too long, going back 20 years or more, the City has tried but failed to redevelop key sites in the City – Black Rock, Preston Barracks, the Municipal Market, the Open Market, etc.  There have been some successes, such as the New England Quarter, now in the heart of the Greens’ heartland of St Peters and North Laine.  But wouldn’t it be ironic if it was the Greens who achieved results on these long-neglected sites?

The biggest issue for the Greens, however, is how the cuts imposed by the Tory-led central government will be managed. What has impressed me (apart from Ben Duncan’s ill-advised comment on protests) has been the absence of big statements or initiatives that would be counter-productive.  The Greens would be wise if, as it appears, they are taking their time to set priorities and to come across as measured in how they are addressing the issues.  I hope that Craig agrees with me on this.

Condemning the Greens for their bar chart but recognising the Greens are on the up

Imagine the scene – Warren Morgan reviewing this blog while having a sneaky second bowl of Sugar Puffs. Seeing the condemnation by Dr Faust of my failure to criticise the bar chart used in the latest Green leaflet, he is compelled to write: “Dr Faust – yes, still no defence of the Green ‘last citywide poll’ bar graph from 2009, funny that.”

Faust himself had written: “BPB – don’t forget your over the top condemnation of Labour leaflets with far less contentious contents. You said Labour had lost one of your votes at the time – if you were going Green with it, then surely you should take it back – or maybe go Lib Dem?”

All I can do is coin a phrase: “Calm down, dear”. The bar chart used by the Greens is almost as bad as that used by Labour – which recorded some votes cast in Lewes District. At least the Green chart used only votes cast in Brighton and Hove. But apart from that, it is a dishonest chart in as much as these local elections are being fought on ward boundaries. No direct comparisons can be drawn and the Greens should not have used it.

What the Greens can legitimately claim, and this will have Warren spluttering over his Sugar Puffs, the “Greens are on the up” and “Labour are in decline”. Apart from poor grammar (it should read “Labour is in decline”) this claim in the Greens’ leaflet is correct and will be seen to be so on Friday when the real votes are counted.

Which brings me on to Geoffrey Bowden. He writes: “What lovely fun all this speculation is. However, for my part and the rest of the Green Party candidates in Queen’s Park, the canvassing goes on till the last moment and nothing will be taken for granted.  Its been a great contest cleanly fought (for the most part) on all sides, but in the end it is the electorate who decide and not the sephologists.”

Clearly the Sussex Square doesn’t think it is fun at all. Lighten up, Geoffrey. This blog is provided as a social service, to help otherwise stressed candidates to let off stream. All four of my regular readers (Warren, Grizzly, Christopher, and Doris Day) know what is being written is speculative fun.

As we enter the last few frenetic days of the campaign, I encourage all candidates to enjoy themselves. Some wards are so close that a final push might make all the difference. Give it your all, and best of luck to all, even Grizzly and the Estate Agent!

Not everything is fair in love and war, or in politics

In the last few days I have had to ‘unapprove’ some unpleasant comments on this blog, and I have not approved others. In all about 10 comments do not appear as they are abusive, slanderous and downright unpleasant.

It is one thing having a light-hearted pop at each other (toothbrush, Sugar Puffs, Estate Agents, and Grizzlies) but comments about the bodies of others, wanting to take a hammer to the head of an opposition politician, false accusations of anti-semitism, and so on, has no place in political life or debate, and no place on this blog.

There is less than a week to polling day and emotions will be running high. By all means, make political attacks, challenge each others’ claims for office, tell me how rubbish this blog is, but keep it clean, fair and honourable.

Thanks. – BPB

Constructive criticism of Labour or uncritical support for the Greens?

Dr Faust says that my “uncritical approach to the Green Party, and willingness to accept any observation (often from Green Party candidates) about the shortcomings of Labour is quite tiresome”. I thought I would confuse the Good Doctor by sharing a little insight into my sad little world.

First, in the ward where I live, it makes sense (to me, anyway) to vote Labour. A vote for a Green candidate would make little difference.

Second, I am not altogether opposed to what Baron Pepperpot has said, that it would not be too bad if “the old guard” of Labour was removed (although in Jeane Lepper Labour has one of te most active and most effective ward councillors).

Third, I am, by inclination, Old Labour. I am not a Green and it is unlikely that I would ever join the Greens. I am more likely to rejoin Labour if I thought they had regained any semblance of competence and campaigning ability.

Fourth, Labour also has to learn from Caroline Lucas and move on from the 2010 defeat. At the moment the most attractive thing about Labour is Warren Morgan’s choice of breakfast cereal.

For too long Labour thought it had the right to be the party of government in Brighton and Hove. It became arrogant. Two election defeats in a row, and the likely hammering at the polls in May, should be cause for a fundamental review by Labour. As a former Labour Party member, nobody has ever bothered to ask me why I left and whether I might rejoin. (The reasons I left include T. Blair, New Labour, Iraq, privatisation, etc.). Blue Labour is hardly going to help rebuild the “broad church” that once defined Labour, and Labour activists’ obsession with the Evil Princess and All Her Works is so unappealing.

The Green Party has become the “broad church” in Brighton and Hove, providing a home for environmentalists and Socialists alike. But I am unlikely to join the Green Party as it is unlikely to define itself as a socialist party, but then, what chance is there of Labour doing so?

Labour activists seem to go on the attack every time I criticise their party, question their prospe ts, or point out the reality of their ongoing decline. This is half the problem. Labour still can’t tolerate dissent – a legacy of Kinnock and Blair. The Control Freaks remain in charge of the asylum. What Labour should do is allow dissent, welcome diverse opinions, and allow control to be devolved to branch level.

That is probably a big ask given that the branch structure in Brighton and Hove is largely moribund, but it is where Labour’s success in the 1980’s sprung from and this has to be rediscovered if Labour is to be revived in Brighton and Hove.

So Dr Faust, there you have it. Constructive criticism is what I offer. Uncritical approach to the Greens? Not really, it’s just that they are basically right about the strength of its campaign and the weakness of Labour’s. On May 5th we will see if I am right or whether I will be eating humble pie!

Is the Brighton Politics Blogger too irreverent? Mr Pickwick thinks so

Brighton’s Mr Pickwick, Christopher Hawtree, has taken me and the tone of this blog to task.  Following a genial evening in the pub with Dan Wilson, he commented: “We agreed that the Election, so far, does not have a great deal of fun about it. Perhaps this is the nature of the times; perhaps it is the systems of campaigning; perhaps it’s the winter.  We also agreed that, in such fora as this one, it can seem the stuff of banter – predictions being akin to hoping to nudge pennies from a moving shovel in a Palace Pier arcade’s glass case – but in fact it is people’s lives: I came back yesterday evening, the mind full of sometimes harrowing stories heard on doorsteps or from people who had asked me in.  People sometimes jeer at Councillors as a bunch of freeloaders but I should say that in almost any area a Councillor who gives his or her time to it has quite a load. And, in the nature of things, that sort of work is not made public.”

Green Chris and Labour Dan are absolutely correct.  Politics is serious business.  The decision of the electorate will decide which party will dominate Brighton politics for the next four years, and the decisions of our new leaders will have an impact on the lives of hundreds and thousands of people.  As an activist, I too have heard many harrowing stories on the doorstep. I have seen how people’s lives can be blighted by a bad decision here, or improved by a good decision there.  A councillor who can work with officers to deal with a noise complaint can see an immediate improvement in the lives of neighbours. 

I have an ex who was a county councillor for a while and I am aware of how hard councillors do work and how much of what they do is unrecognised and unappreciated.  While I might take a light-hearted view of election campaigns, and make irreverent reference to Momma Grizzly, the Estate Agents, the Wise Owl and even Mr Pickwick, this blog aims to encourage interest in local politics.  Sometimes serious, more often light-hearted, I will continue in a similar vein unless enough of you ask me not to.

Ben Duncan – the “Standards Committee” madness continues

Just when it appeared that sanity had returned to the democratic process with the clearing of Jason Kitcat following the party-political inspired vendetta against him, news comes of a fresh attack on another Green councillor.

Queens Park councillor Ben Duncan has been told that a formal standards committee will examine a blog he wrote about the policing of a demonstration in Brighton.  It was another “standards committee” that led to the fiasco against Jason Kitcat that has cost local people “thousands of Pounds”.

The name of the complainant is not yet known, nor the precise allegations against councillor Duncan.  What is it about Tory, Labour and Lib Dem councillors (all of whom were implicated in the witch-hunt against Jason Kitcat) that they resort to the tactics of school prefect bullies.  It is one thing to disagree with your political opponents, and to attack them for their views, but to try to silence them through the use of a proceduralistic measure, such as a so-called “standards committee” when there is an in-built majority of your political opponents is a disgrace.

Politicians should be free to blog, to criticise policing of demonstrations, as Ben Duncan has done.  They shouldn’t be personally critical of ordinary council officers, although political opponents are fair game.

Ben Duncan has commented: “Standards procedures are about preventing fraud, dishonesty, corruption in public life, or bringing the council into disrepute.  If it is a matter of political diagreement about a matter of policyit is entirely inappropriate for a public body to investigate and for the taxpayer to foot the bill”.

I call on the leaders of all political groups on the City Council (Mary Mears, Gill Mitchell, Bill Randall, and Paul Elgood) to come togther to say that they disapprove of the standards procedures being used to surpress political comment and will condemn any group members who becomes involved in surpressing free speech.

A round-up of political blogs in Brighton and Hove (Part 3)

Apologies for the delay in posting part 3 of my occasional round-up of Brighton (and Hove) political blogs.

Jason Kitcat writes one of the more interesting local blogs, as expected from one of the more interesting councillors.  There has been some focus, understandable, on the case brought against him by vindictive and narrow-minded Tory, Ted Kemble. I was delighted to see that Councillor Kitcat has been cleared this week by an independent Tribunal.  But Jason’s blog provides interesting and informative coverage of the Council and the cuts.  He even provides links to the occasional YouTube video of Geoffrey Theobald! Jason Kitcat’s blog is good news for the blogosphere, and Jason Kitcat is good news for the City Council.

Paul Perrin is a nice man but why on earth has he got such extremist views?  Paul should feel at home in the Tory Party, but he believes the Conservatives are far too pro-Europe, something the rest of us think is a laughable position.  Instead he remains in UKIP where all he can do is snipe from the sidelines.  His blog “Free People of England” describes the Conservatives as “the new party of the left” and refers back to speech made at a Tory Party conference in 1977.  It may have been a speech by William Hague, but he was a child then, for goodness sake. Have a look at his blog, but don’t let it convince you – not through argument but by comparison – that the Tories are a moderate party.

Andy Richards’ blog, People’s Republic of Hove, is a straightforward, uncomplicated, unreconstructed blog of the old left, and Andy is a straightforward, uncomplicated, unreconstructed activist of the left.  His blog provides a good reminder of the left in its glory days of the 1980’s.  I agree with much of what he says, but feel that he does little more than preach to the converted.  I hope he can prove me wrong, but I suspect he is leading the left and his union members to an heroic defeat.

Paul Elgood’s Brunswick Blog is little more than an electronic version of a Liberal Focus leaflet.  The blog tries, and fails, to reassure voters that the Lib Dems are anything other than the party that has made it possible for the Tories to destroy public services by making unprecendented cuts.  Danny Alexander, David Laws, Nick Clegg, Vince Cable are, I believe, Lib Dems.  No, Paul, it won’t wash.  Thank you for your service to the City, and enjoy your political retirement.

And then there is the Brighton Politics Blogger.  It has been described as “a load of twaddle”, “clearly narcissistic and inconsequential”, “superficial, snide and irrelevant”, and “it  is just not very good”.  What do you think?