Both Greens and Labour should avoid internal divisions if they wish to win Hollingdan and Stanmer

At the last local elections Hollingdean and Stanmer was keenly fought between Labour and the Greens. I predicted, quite correctly, that two Greens, Sven Rufus and Christina Summers, would win, and that Jeane Lepper would hold her seat for Labour.
The Greens underestimated the personal popularity of Jeane Lepper who, in the ‘Kings House Bubble’, is something of a figure of hate for the Greens. Similarly, Labour overestimated the popularity of the former councillors, Pat Hawkes and Christine Simpson.
Most of my sympathy last year was with Luke Walter, the Green candidate who lost out to Jeane Lepper purely on the grounds that he appeared lower on the ballot paper than the names Rufus and Summers. He wold have made a first rate councillor and I hope that he will consider standing in the future.
The loss of Hollingdean and Stanmer hurt Labour. It was their last remaining stronghold in Brighton Pavilion and the base of the former Labour MP, David Lepper, husband of Jeane Lepper.
It is no wonder that Labour has it as its number one target seat. There are regular campaign mornings targeting the ward and Labour is to select its candidates for the 2015 elections this coming September, a full 30 months before the poll.
And while Labour has got its act together, the Greens have decided to carry out its ‘enquiry’ into the actions of Christina Summers at the Council meeting  on July 19h when she spoke and voted against equal marriage.
In my last post I said that the Greens would be judged by its handling of Summersgate. Depressingly, it is emulating Labour in the 1980’s and 1990’s by taking divisive action against one of its members, action that will have just one winner, Labour.
But Labour is a funny old party. It could yet allow its deep sectarian divisions to scupper its prospects. While the old right calls for tolerance towards Labour’s party-in-a-party, Progress, there is hostility towards the soft left LRC. Labour would be well-advised to put aside its divisions and focus on winning elections. For that matter, so too would the Greens.

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A review of May’s local elections, as seen by birds

I was recently sent an amazing, original review of the local elections. With the agreement of the author, Pearl Ahrens, I reproduce an extract here.

“It’s a week after kestrelection day, and the kites have been counted, cormorants have been congratulated / consoled and meetings have been held. Last year’s kestrelection victory was replayed, with the Grebe Party winning 23 seats on the barnowl, making them the biggest party. The Grebe Group made the announcement on Monday that it will not form a coachicken with the Labullfinch Group, but instead form a minority admoorhenstration.

“Grebes Phalarope Maccaferty and Owlie Snipes took over from the defector Diverd Waxwing, who was standing again as and indepheasant, and Paul Eagled, a Lib Dem. The Lib Dems selected Brian Rock-Dove as a fellow cormorant for Paul.

“Ania Kitcoot, the only Slavonian Grebe on the barnowl, got a seat next to her husband, Jason Kitcoot.

“Tern Sandfrench lost out on a seat in Quail’s Park that he really wanted, by 325 kites. But Quail’s Park is still grebe, with Ben Dunlin staying on but two new barnowlors taking over: Steph Petrel and Geoffrey Birden.

“In St Pintail’s and Nuthatch Laine, Lizzie Dunnock got about 300 kites more than her fellow Grebe cormorants Ian Diver and Pete Whinchat, but they all got kestre-elected. Clare Curlew (hatchling of Jean Curlew and Andean Condor) put up a good flight but should probably try again in a safer Labullfinch seat.

“Diver Bangs, author of the book ‘Where the meadowpipit meets the waterpipit’, stood in Moulescoomb and Bevendean for Tern Union and Stonechat Coachicken (T.U.S.C.), but to no avail, as, sadly, he only got 267 kites.

“The Consparrowhawks ditched barnowlor Magpie Mears as leader of the Consparrowhawk group in favour of Geoffrey Theobaldeagle, ex-cabinercaillie-member-for-the-envionment. Fellow Rottingdean Seabirds barnowlor Lynda Hide caused outrage at the budgie meeting by squarking at the public gallery to “Pay your taxes!”

“The Consparrowhawks did very badly all over the city. Rob Jayrett, Ruth Bullfinch and Skylarks Philips snatched the former Consparrowhawk stronghold of Goldcrest for the Grebes.

“The result in Patcham was only as expected. All 3 Consparrowhawk barnowlors got kestre-elected with a 609 majority on the runner-up cormorant: Hugh Woodcock, a Grebe. Carol and Geoffrey Theobaldeagle and Brian Pigeon are the barnowlors.

“In a welcome surprise victory, the Grebe Christopher Hawktree won his long-eared long-tailed seat in Central Dove. He famgrousely got challenged to a duel by Tory barnowlor Diverd Smewth in the pages of the Argoose. Hawktree rejackdawed the challenge because he was going to the librookery that day.”

Apologies that I didn’t post this much earlier but I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

Students effect elections, housing and jobs

Since the local elections there has been much comment about the influence of students on the election. In wards like Hollingdean and Stanmer, the Greens were able to organise the student vote, winning two seats from Labour.

Some have commented that it isn’t right that students who are temporary residents in the City can vote in their home town and in Brighton and Hove. In particular some say that it is wrong that the student vote in 2011 will effect how the City is run well after this generation of students have moved on.

My view is that a lively student population enriches the City, and of course they should be allowed to vote. Part of the problem for the old parties is that they have neglected student voters for many years. Caroline Lucas (thanks to the efforts of Allie Cannell) was able to draw on the student vote, ensuring her election.

Nancy Platts, in an interesting post on the blog Southern Front, comments that it is Labour’s lack of vision damaged her electoral chances against Caroline Lucas: “Brighton is a university town with a history of political activism, especially at Sussex University. Student numbers can swing an election in Brighton and tuition fees were a gift to the Greens. How hard can it be to decide where to place your cross on election day when there are three political positions presented; higher tuition fees from the Tories, a free university education from the Greens or, well, er…a ‘review’ from Labour. Did we forget how to do politics – why would any student vote for a review? The Greens consistently targeted the student vote and increased turnout from the universities.” Her post is well worth a read.

Caroline Penn says that she has “nothing against students. I’m sure most of us here were students once. It’s wrong to blame them as you say for many of the issues that have arisen. While friends have had issues with student parties, a more responsible landlord (and better university liaison) should deal with that.”

Craig Turton comments on the impact of students on the local employment market: “Between Brighton and Sussex universities we have one of the largest rates of post graduate student settlement anywhere outside of London but in a relatively small geographical area. This can be beneficial for employers (ie; a virtually permanent pool of highly educated workers) but can equally create problems (ie; competition from graduates leaves local people with few or no educational qualifications at a disadvantage even for jobs not requiring a degree. Without wishing to appear facetious, we probably have the most over qualified call centre workers and bar staff in England).”

Students are a fact of life, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. Where have I heard that before? They student body causes problems, enriches our community, puts huge pressure on housing, and creates unfair competition in the jobs market. But Brighton wouldn’t be Brighton without the students. If you don’t like them, move to Worthing!

I’m hoping that the Greens have chosen their new Brighton and Hove Cabinet wisely

The new Green Cabinet in Brighton and Hove contained a number of surprises – the number of newly elected councillors who have Cabinet positions. Of course, with so many new councillors, and just nine re-elected ones, at least one newly elected Green member had to end up in the Cabinet of ten.

But the appointment of so many new councillors creates extra responsibility and increased demands on those without prior Council experience. Some, like the Sussex Square, Geoffrey Bowden, has taken to his new role like a duck to water. His prior experience in a government quango will have helped. Others, though, are having to make the adjustment to being an elected councillor, becoming a Cabinet member and learning a new brief, all at the same time. Most newly elected councillors, no matter how lowly they are in the pecking order, especially in an authority like Brighton and Hove, are overwhelmed by the demands placed one them. To become a Cabinet holder is a huge ask.

Those Green councillors who have taken on Cabinet experience have not been appointed based on experience or competence by the Leader of the Council. No, they have been elected into each position by the entire Group. While that may be good for democracy within the Group and the Green Party, it could have resulted in appointment being made that might not otherwise have been made, with others, currently more experienced and possible more able, remaining on the back benches. I am not thinking of any particular Cabinet member. But for the well being of Brighton and Hove, I hope the Greens have got ALL appointments right. There is no time to learn the job on the go. The City can’t afford mistakes.

I anticipate that there will be one, if not two, resignations from the Cabinet within the first year as individuals realise what the brief entails and what time commitment is required. Whatever you may think of the last two administrations, individuals like Mary Mears, Maria Caulfield and Ayas Fallon-Khan (all Tories), and Simon Burgess and Sue John (Labour) worked every hour of the day and night fulfilling the demands of their portfolios. They may not always have got it right but nobody should negate their commitment and service to the City. I hope in a years time I can say the same thing for the ten Green Cabinet members who will need to make huge personal sacrifices while coming under close scrutiny and, in all likelihood, gleeful criticism. I wish each and everyone the best of luck. The City needs you to be successful.

Fall out from local elections continues

As you would expect, a very robust and coherent defence of Labour has been received from Warren Morgan in response to my post yesterday. Reglar readers will know that I am an admirer of Warren. He is a very able politician, and one who is able to organise well. However, before the election I repeatedly told him (when he was predicting greater success for Labour that materialised) that his views were influenced by the excellent organisation in East Brighton, something replicated in just a few wards elsewhere in Brighton and Hove. As the Greens have advanced, Labour has become more marginalised. ‘But we polled almost the same number of votes as the Green’s, I hear the Labour Deniers plea. But you didn’t win the seats. In the first year of a Tory-led government that is slashing public services across the board you should have been able to pick up more than a handful of seats from the Tories.

In fact Warren himself talks about how close it was: “Labour scored the same number of votes citywide as the Greens – a fact. It didn’t get those votes where they were needed to win the seats, admitted. Labour was 150 to 200 votes short of winning additional seats in seven wards. It didn’t, but had it done it it would have been the largest group, just. Labour finished a relatively close second in all three parliamentary seats in the city last year, and level with the winners in terms of votes this year. Labour’s vote went up in every ward, most by 350, some by 500, one by 700. That does not paint a picture of a Party in terminal decline.”

Warren does reveal something I have called for, that there will be a wide and open review of what went wrong: “Of course lessons need to be learned both in terms of policy, organisation and message, but any debate is painted as dissent and division. Over the coming weeks and months Labour will be consulting, meeting, listening and debating, not just within our membership but with voters, organisations and others to determine what we can do better.” I welcome that open debate although having seen some comments by various activists (for which I am criticised when quoting them on this blog) I am aware that there is a wish for greater control to be put in the hands of a smaller number of individuals at the expense of ward branch organisation. Very dangerous. But good luck in that debate, Warren, and if I can be of any assistance ……!

We get an interesting Green insight from Luke Walter, one of the most able campaigners in Brighton and Hove who was unlucky to have missed election in Hollingdean and Stanmer purely on the grounds of the alphabet (something he identified several weeks ago was likely): “We understood our demographic better than Labour, we understood the kind of people who vote in local elections, we even understood their motivation for voting. In nearly all of these, Labour and the Tories got it wrong. Labour were saying ‘if you vote Green you get the Tories.’ The Tories were saying ‘if you vote Green you get Labour.’ I think we were the only ones saying ‘if you vote Green you get Green.’ The truth is, Warren and his councillor colleagues in the Kemptown constituency need to try and understand why 1000 or so voters in EB and M&B voted Green in the locals with no obvious campaigning and with the continuous message ‘Greens can’t win’ or ‘voting Green only helps the Tories here.’ ”

What is impressive about Luke (something not that obvious in other parties) is his ability to be self-critical about the Greens own performance: “We Greens are also at fault. We greatly underestimated our vote in those wards, as well as Westbourne in Hove. This mistake won’t be repeated again. Reading the comments from Labour councillors and Labour supporters, it is clear the party is in a pickle, as I’m sure the Tories are as well. Weatherly should be sweating in Hove and Portslade losing six seats last Friday. The same for Kirby in Kemptown, who was beaten into third by the Greens in two sizeable wards in his constituency. If the Greens political opponents are waiting in the dark until we slip-up, they’ve got another thing coming. From now on, they can expect a more confident, more slicker and bolder Green machine in Brighton AND Hove.”

Dr Faust reprimands me, that I “need to develop a more even handed approach with your critisisms of parties.  You ask for an apology from Labour about ‘misleading’ material (which I would contest), but don’t ask for the same from the Green Party.  You say the same about claims made over recent elections, but again don’t expect any contrition from the Green Party who did exactly the same.  In both cases I consider the material put out to be par for the course tactics in trying to win votes and seats. Consistancy would be welcome.”

My dear Doctor, I have never pretended to be consistent or even-handed. A hint of bias has occasionally come through in my writings on those two-faced, yellow-belly, snake-in-the-grass, rats sometimes known as the Lib Dems. I was SO sad to see them wiped off the face of the political map in Brighton and Hove on May 5th. As for being even handed in my criticism, I don’t dish it out for the sake of it. I am critical of Labour’s use of misleading graphs in two elections in a row and the poor organisation in the City and of party HQ. Last week I did criticise the Greens for their use of a graph but their use was less misleading because of a simple factor – they WON. Labour’s claims were misleading as they claimed that, in 2010, they were the only party who could beat the Tories in Brighton Pavilion (horribly misleading and unforgivable, as would the Greens claim had they not won) and, in 2011, that they were the only party that could form an administration. With just 13 seats out of 54 that is a big ask!

(In case there is any doubt amongst those other than my four regular readers – Warren, Christopher Hawtree, Momma Grizzly, and Doris Day – I am not anti-Labour. I voted Labour on May 5th. I just want to see Labour get its act together. I am also aware that there is a suggestion that there is a ‘snitch’ in Labour’s ranks, someone who is passing me information. In fact, there are almost a dozen Labour activists with whom I am either in regular contact with or who DM or email me regularly, along with several Tories and several Greens. No Lib Dems, alas).

Labour is no closer than ever to understanding how to respond to the Greens

The Labour Party in Brighton and Hove is in an unenviable position. Its group of councillors (now officially the Labour and Co-operative Group) has made a decision not to approach the Greens about a formal coalition.

Already some party activists and councillors are already making unrealistic predictions about 2015. Rob Macey has written: “we need to set a high bar for the greens. they have got what they have always wanted but I predict that this will lance the boil and give us the opportunity, if we sort ourselves out, to take full control back next time around.”

There is no way that Labour will come anywhere near taking control next time. The next locals are likely to take place on the same day as the general election in 2015. Caroline Lucas will be re-elected with a thumping majority, with Labour coming in a distant third. (It is not just me who thinks this, but one leading member of the local Laour Party has written “With the win in Withdean as well as those in Preston Park and Hollingdean & Stanmer Caroline Lucas is now well placed to achieve a five-figure majority in 2015.”)

Labour has misled the electorate in two elections running (that only Labour could beat the Tories in Brighton Pavilion in 2010, and that only Labour could form an administration in 2011 – has Laour sacked the genius who insisted on this tosh?).

Yet Labour activists are blinded to reality. Christine Simpson has asked: “I am still not sure why their (the Greens) message was more believable than ours to many people in different parts of the city, except that they can put themselves forward as the non political party with clean green hands.” It might be the freshness of the Greens but Labour’s obsessive attacks on Caroline Lucas make the party look like bad losers, and many people are delighted that the City has produced the first Green MP. Caroline Lucas certainly hasn’t betrayed the faith people had in her and her reputation goes from strength to strength.

Labour on the other hand remains tainted by the last government. I have posted recently about the Labour Party welcoming David Milliband to Brighton – a very big mistake which no one in Labour has yet defended. Compared to the Greens, Labour appears tainted by Iraq, privatisation, university fees, etc. And now Labour activists are getting excited about Blue Labour. The Greens in Brighton and Hove will be laughing all the way to the next elections and beyond.

Labour needs to wipe the slate clean. Perhaps Gill Mitchell could apologise for Labour’s misleading statements on its election material. That would be a start. At least Labour should say now it won’t mislead the electorate in future elections. Craig Turton is one of the few Labour politicians with the necessary understanding of the situation: “I’ve said before that criticising the Greens is the political equivalent of clubbing seals and our experience on the doorstep has proved this has been the case so far as voters simply don’t believe us.”

But the immediate dilemma for Labour is how it responds to the Green administration. In private one former Labour councillor pleaded with her former colleagues regarding a coalition: “don’t take the LibDems’ role to the Green Party. Let them mess it up!” Now that sentiment is not something most people in Brighton want to hear. It is in the best interests of the City and its residents that the new administration is successful. And Labour needs to support the Greens to be successful.

This is the unenviable position for Labour councillors. If they vote against the administration (ie. with the Tories), their reputation will plunge further and they will rightly be criticised by many, including this Blogger. If they abstain on crucial votes the question will be asked “what is the point of Labour councillors” (abstaining on the budget did not help an already wounded party). And if they vote with the Greens, the Greens will get the credit because they and nor Labour are the administration.

Tory young guns firing bullets of indignation

I am not a small-state, socially liberal and fiscally conservative kind of guy. That may come as a surprise to some of you Eco-Marxist, Commie (credit for those labels to Chuck Vere and Paul Perrin – that would be a marriage made Hell) fanatics who have infiltrated the Green Party. I have a problem. I like Michael Ireland, one of the young breed of Tory candidates who stood and fell last Thursday. But Michael describes himself as a “small-state, socially liberal and fiscally conservative kind of guy.” I imagine it’s just a phase he’s going through.

The young Tories had such high hopes only to see each one fall to the Greens or, in the case of Michael, to Labour’s Brian Fitch, and Kerry Underhill also to Labour. Rachael Bates, George Dore, Mike McFarland (the guy lucky enough to leave his toothbrush next to George’s), Robert Nemeth, and Adam Love were beaten by Green opponents.

Young candidates from other parties fared no better with Labour’s Clare Calder, Tom French and Harris Fitch, the Greens’ Luke Walter and Allie Cannell, and the Lib Dems Rebecca Taylor, Tallulah Frankland and Larissa Rowe all lost. In fact no new young councillors were elected, and there remains just one councillor under the age of 30, the Greens’ Alex Phillps.

The young Conservatives are not a happy bunch. Last night I posted comments from a Tory Party member regarding the young Conservatives. Today I have been bombarded by these said Tories denouncing each other as if one of them is my informant. At no point did I intimate that my correspondent was one of their number. But look at how they turn against each other:

Michael Ireland: “I was shocked to see this post after having just cleaned my teeth this morning. Whilst the anonymous poster might have provided a fascinating observation for the blog, their comments, whilst ostensibly representing our group, are merely their own opinion.”

Robert Nemeth: “I’ve never posted on here before but it has been drawn to my attention that it may well be assumed that I am your cowardly friend. As I am neither cowardly nor your friend, I would very much like to distance myself from public attacks on colleagues. There is no real group of young Conservatives as such but, if there were and it did have a spokesman, that person would not be such a sneak. Hopefully it is nobody that I know. For the record, I am dead impressed by the Greens’ organisational skills. I doubt that they managed to get in such a position by sneaking around on blogs.”

Rob Buckley: “Your informer, whoever they may be, does not speak for the entire younger generation within the local Conservative Party. I know some of his/her assertions to be inaccurate. This highlights the problem with hiding cowardly behind anonymity.”

And finally, Momma Grizzly: “I entirely agree with Rob Buckwell. Whoever your ‘informant’ is should have the guts to come out from behind the veil of anonymity if they are to say such comments. They certainly do not speak for all of the younger Conservatives and I’m not impressed that this person who has chosen to remain anonymous has taken it upon themselves to say that they represent our views.”

Labour activists reacted with similar indignation when one of their numbers passed on views which were then passed on to this Blogger. Anonymity is something that you may have to get used to. But there are some fascinating insights that I won’t share, which is a shame. For example, today I received a great email from a Labour activist from Hove who asked me to keep his/her comments ‘off line’, a request which I will respect.

But do keep the comments coming, email to brightonpoliticsblogger@googlemail.com and indicate whether I can use them. Alternatively, Direct Message me through Twitter @BrightonPolitic, or simply leave a comment on this blog.