Caroline Lucas stands down …. as party leader

Tonight Caroline Lucas announced that she is to stand down as leader of the Green Party.  On a statement on the Green Party website she said she was doing so “in order to broaden opportunities for the range of talent in the Party and to raise the profiles of others aspiring to election.”

On Twitter this evening her Conservative rival in the 2010 general election, Charlotte Vere, said that she was trying to think of another party leader to stand down voluntarily and then not withdraw from public life.

My understanding that Ms Lucas is not planning to withdraw from public life. Rather, she is to focus on defending her Westminster seat at the next general election.

This is a shrewd move from Ms Lucas. Her profile as the lone Green MP is far greater than her profile as Party Leader. Of course being the leader gave her a significant advantage against Chuck Vere and Nancy Platts (the Labour candidate). However, having secured the win, she can now concentrate on her consistuency base.

A criticism of Ms Lucas, if it can be called that, has been that she tries to do everything and might have been in danger of running herself into the ground. This blogger was concerned prior to the election that, if elected, her role as leader she would mean she could not devote sufficient attention to the constituency. She has proven to be an excellent constituency MP (as I have no doubt would have Chuck or Nancy – Brighton Pavilion was particularly fortunate to have had three exceptional women condidates in 2010).

If a new Party Leader can support Caroline in her role as a Member of Parliament, even using the platform that leadership offers to become an MP, then the Greens will have taken a small, yet significant step forward.

For Labour and Tory activists with an eye on the general election in 2015, this news will be greeted with dismay. It means that Ms Lucas’s near certain re-election has itself moved a small, yet significant step forward.

Labour activists’ pathological obsession with the Evil Princess and All Her Works

I have referred in previous posts to the ‘Caroline Effect’ – how the election of Caroline Lucas has changed, and is changing, the face of politics in Brighton and Hove. I was wrong. There isn’t a ‘Caroline Effect’, there are several ‘Caroline Effects’.

Effect 1: galvanising anti-Tory opposition. Many tribal Labour supporters, like me, alienated by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, student fees, privatisation (to mention just a few) have yet to regain confidence in Labour. Labour is burdened by its record in office and support for cuts. “We wouldn’t have gone so far so soon” is hardly a rallying cry to galvanise people who are angy. Ed Milliband is yet to inspire, so too Labour’s leaders in Brighton and Hove. By contrast, Caroline Lucas is able to articulate an alternative (regardless of whether she will ever be called on to implement a programme). Because of Caroline’s leadership, the Greens continue to have momentum.

Effect 2: inspiring a generation of activists. Talking to young activists, many of whom either have not been active before or have been involved in single issue campaigns, are hitching their wagon to the Green Party because of Caroline Lucas. Who is Labour’s alternative. Locally there is nobody. Nationally there is no Labour leader who can hope to rival Caroline Lucas.

Effect 3: demolishing the two party monopoly in Brighton and Hove. There is a viable alternative to Labour in Brighton and Hove (and it isn’t the Lib Dems). Labour threw everything into its attempt to stop Caroline Lucas last May, including compromising its reputation for honesty. It failed and its scare tactic has undermined the loyalty that many showed Labour last time. Its dishonesty continues in this election each time Labour distorts election results in a crude attempt to mislead the electorate.

Effect 4: infuriating Labour activists. Speaking to many Labour activists there remains a pathological obsession with the Evil Princess and All Her Works. Labour will continue to flounder until it can get over Caroline Lucas’ success and until it can offer an alternative as attractive (politically and in style) as Caroline Lucas. A further problem for Labour is the number of young Green women activists who are emerging out of Caroline’s long shadow. They include Alex Phillips and Amy Kennedy.

Labour has missed a chance this year by leaving all its existing councillors in place, particularly in winnable seats. They have the stale pal our of defeat hanging around them. There are some young Labour activists who could have won seats (including some which I have predicted that Labour will lose). Instead, some Labour councillors have decided to cling on to the cost of the Party.

NG demonstrates the desperate lengths that anti-Lucas activists are now going to. He recently left the following comment: “There are two issues which are going to damage her and possibly Green candidates in the local elections: 1) her support for votes for rapists and murderers, and 2) her continuing to maintain her main family residence overseas in order that her children can attend a private school.” Utter tosh. This reference to the votes for prisoners is one that has challenged politicians of all parties. To characterise this as “votes for rapists and murderers is gutter politics of the lowest order. My suggestion to NG is to get out of the sewers and offer something positive.

Because of the Caroline Effects, the Greens will continue to go from strength to strength in Brighton. Until Labour activists get over Caroline’s success and begin to offer an attractive alternative, Labour will continue to flounder. Reaction to this blog will reveal whether Labour has learned anything and is moving forward.

What will the ‘Caroline Effect’ be in May’s local elections in Brighton and Hove?

I am in a state of shock.  Allie Cannell left a comment on my blog which I reproduce in full: “I agree with BPB”. I’m not used to such support! And I will return the compliment: I agree with Allie Cannell” when he says that the ‘Caroline Effect’ breaks the idea that voting Green is a wasted vote.  HP on the other hand is totally wrong when he/she says that Caroline Lucas has had no effect since “she shows up at parliament every day and effectively p*sses in the wind as she sits in a group of one, just 325 seats short of being able to do anything”.  It could be said that Labour MP’s are having the same effect as one Green MP, showing up at parliament every day and effectively p*sses in the wind as they sit in a group of 258, about 70 seats short of being able to do anything.

Dr Faust asks whether Labour and the Greens should actively work together with a view to sharing power?  I agree with HP’s comment about the desirability of this locally: “The Tory core is going to hold up okay but there are enough seats to be taken off them to get a more progressive group into power. If the Greens and Labour cannot work together to achieve this then all voters of a leftish pursuasion will have been sold short by both parties”.  I know it is wishful thinking, but it is worth thinking about.

The Caroline Effect will be a significant factor in May.  Voters will be less likely to fall for the Labour line of “Vote Labour or let the Tories in”.  That is a discredited line and those Labour candidates who allow it to be used deserve to be beaten.  The Caroline Effect continues to motivate and enthuse Green activists.  And supporters of other parties, Labour and Tories alike, are not immune either from the Caroline Effect.  But most of all, Lib Dem supporters are most likely to be swayed by the Caroline effect as they desert in droves.

Christopher Hawtree, the Champion of Rottingdean, sums up my feelings about May’s local elections in Brighton and Hove, that this is “very interesting times” with “many moves on the chess board”.

Why the Greens should not be complacent in Brighton and Hove

In recent posts I have offered comradely advice to Labour about what it needs to do to re-establish itself locally.  In this post I offer some advice to the Greens (also comradely, but I’m not sure whether Greens use such language!).

I expect the Greens to do well next May.  In September last year I did a review of how I saw things going in each ward, the key wards between Labour and the Greens being Regency, Preston Park, and Queen’s Park.  The Greens are optimistic about Hollingdean and Stanmer, although I think that it might win one, possibly two seats, but certainly not all three.

The danger for the Greens in approaching thses local elections is complacency.  They underestimate Party loyalty and personal votes at their peril.  In Hollingdean and Stanmer, the Greens have made Jeane Lepper into something of a hate figure.  She clearly has got up the noses of Green councillors, but she has a substantial personal vote.  Performance in the Council Chamber and years of case work on the estates are very different things.  To a lesser extent, Pat Hawkes has something of a personal vote but nothing to match that of Jeane Lepper.

To their credit, the Greens are replicating its successful formula from the general election campaign.  The day of action on Saturday demonstrates what the Greens are capable of.  If local organisers can convince Green activists from across the south, London and beyond that a day trip to Brighton and Hove will help them gain control of the City Council.

In the three key wards, the Greens certainly don’t have it wrapped up.  The Labour candidates in Queen’s Park are keen, energetic and very active. But so too are the Greens (I almost described the candidates as ‘young’, keen, etc. until I remembered that the Sussex Square, the ever youthful Geoffrey Bowden, is standing!).  More than half of the Greens sitting councillors are defending their seats, either standing down or in the case of Sven Rufus, moving wards from Regency to Hollingdean and Stanmer.  The Greens will lose the advantage of the individual personal votes. 

Labour have been wise not to field several of the former councillors defeated last time, although several of their less impressive councillors are standing again, which makes areas such as Moulsecoomb and Bevendean vulnerable to a Tory clean sweep, something that should really be unthinkable.

Having given comradely advice to Labour, my comradely advice to the Greens is to avoid complacency.  Build your base (not your greatest strength) and recruit, recruit, recruit. Don’t underestimate loyalty votes, and chase each and every vote.  The results in several wards will be close.

Brighton and Hove Politician of the Year 2010

There are five nominees for the Brighton and Hove Politician of the Year: Juliet Williams (Lib Dem), Paul Perrin (UKIP), Mike Weatherley (Conservative), Nancy Platts (Labour), and Caroline Lucas (Green).

And the winner is Caroline Lucas.  Her election in May, the only non-Conservative in Sussex and the first ever Green Member of Parliament, came after the liveliest, most keenly fought election campaign in living memory (for that credit should be shared with Nancy Platts and Chuck Vere).  But Caroline’s achievement was extraordinary, locally and nationally. 

The award is for more than the election victory itself.  It is also for how she has conducted herself since May, her energy and determination as a local MP.  She is almost the only politician who has provided any opposition to the ConDem Coalition, and thereby encouraged those who are opposing the cuts and who are being impacted by them.

Her victory shows that there is an alternative to Labour and the Tories.  It poses the biggest challenge to Labour for a generation.  There is no Labour politician locally who matches Ms Lucas in terms of competence and reputation.  For traditional Labour voters, Caroline Lucas provided a viable and attractive alternative, allowing them to cast an anti-Tory vote without fearing that their vote would be wasted.  There were those in Brighton Pavilion who stuck with Labour for just that reason, fearing that a Green vote would split the anti-Tory vote and allow Chuck Vere to be elected.  Next time they will have no such dilemma and Caroline Lucas will be returned with a significantly increased majority.

The challenge for the Greens is whether they can convert the goodwill and enthusiasm resulting from Caroline Lucas’s election into electoral success in May’s local elections.  There is no reason why they should not be able to do so other than the Green’s poor organisation in their target wards.  It takes more than energetic candidates to win elections; it requires the organisation and mobilisation that Caroline Lucas was able to achieve.  Can the Greens do it again?  I am not yet sure.

Political Awards 2010: Politician of the Year Part 1

This award has five nominees, one for the three main parties in Brighton and Hove (Conservative, Labour and Green) and one for two of the fringe parties locally (Lib Dem and UKIP). 

The nominee for the Conservative Party is a politician that has established himself and consolidated his position in a relatively short period of time.  Mike Weatherley is the MP for Hove, elected in May with a majority of 1,868 over the sitting Labour MP, Celia Barlow.  This was a good showing by Celia and the narrowness of Weatherley’s majority should not lead to the conclusion that this will be a marginal next time.  Weatherley has quickly established a reputation as a hard-working constituency MP.  He goes about his business with diligence and little fanfare, but he is making it count where it matters – the careful nurturing of communities of interest.  He is following in the tradition of other effective local MP’s such as David Lepper, Des Turner and Andrew Bowden. Weatherley understands that an MP who neglects his core support will struggle to retain the seat in a bad year.  Weatherley is a formidable politician, likely to stick around for many years to come.  Hove is set to become, once again, a safe Tory seat.  This is why Mike Weatherley is the Conservative Politician of the Year.

Paul Perrin of UKIP is not my kind of politician.  For one, he is a member of UKIP.  I am on record as saying I would prefer to stick pins in my eye than vote UKIP.  But Perrin has a slightly obsessive characteristic needed to make a mark on behalf of a party that is going nowhere.  Without the likes of Perrin, it would go somewhere – to deeper, if not permanent obscurity. Perrin blogs and Tweets with great enthusiasm.  He is the only local UKIP activist who I can name, probably because he is the only UKIP activist locally.  But his single-minded determination to fly the UKIP banner in Brighton and Hove means that he is the UKIP Politician of the Year.

Finding a Lib Dem to nominate as Politician of the Year has proven to be a challenge.  There was a temptation to nominate David Watkins simply because he has been deselected by the Lib Dems, not for breaking pledges and promises (that gets you promoted in Nick Clegg’s Lib Dems), but for being basically a decent sort. But the Lib Dem who stood out for me over the last year is its candidate for Brighton Pavilion, Juliet Williams. At one hustings in Brighton Pavilion, she substituted for that constituency’s candidate on the panel. Juliet gave a barnstorming performance, completely on top of her brief, passionate, with grace and humour.  With candidates like her (not forgetting some backbone and principles) the Lib Dems could avoid being trounced at all elections for the next 5 years.  Juliet Williams is the Lib Dem Politician of the Year.

Tomorrow, Labour and the Greens.

No hiding place for Lib Dems in Brighton and Hove

Mark Collins from the Brighton and Hove Liberal Democrats has a letter in todays Argus saying that Brighton Lib Dems oppose higher tuition fees. He rightly points out that every Lib Dem MP signed the pledge to vote against any rise in tuition fees.

“Being in government doesn’t change those views, and it does not change a pledge”, he writes.

He says that he will march proudly against the rise and for “the future of higher education” in the nationwide demo on November 10th.

But what he can’t get away with is that it is his MPs and his Party that is making it possible for the Coalition Government to make these cuts.

There is no way back for the Lib Dems in Brighton and Hove, not as long as they are betraying every principle that they once claimed to have had. And decent activists, like Mark Collins, do themselves no help whatsoever by pretending that there is a difference between activists and what their MPs are doing on their behalf. It is the activists who helped Norman Baker and Stephen Lloyd get elected in Lewes and Eastbourne.

If Mark wants to make a real difference, and wants to put real pressure on his coalition MPs is to resign from the Lib Dems and join Labour or the Greens.

St Peter’s and North Laine by-election: strong showing by Labour’s Tom French

Next Thursday is the St Peter’s and North Laine by-election. What is encouraging for the Labour Party is the performance of its candidate, the impressive Tom French.  He has run a high profile and energetic campaign.  He is just what the Labour Party needs following the general election.

So could Labour’s revival begin in this by-election.  It could be argued that the Green’s win in Brighton Pavilion got the Big Mo, momentum, from the Goldsmid by-election (even though Goldsmid is in neighbouring Hove).  In Goldsmid the Greens fielded 24 year old Alex Phillips.  She was enthusiastic, well-liked, impressive.  In St Peter’s and North Laine, Labour has a 24 year old, enthusiastic, well-liked, impressive candidate. The Greens had never won in Goldsmid, nor for that matter in any ward in Hove. It is many years since Labour came even close in St Peter’s and North Laine and, before that, in the old St Peter’s Ward.

But can the “positive, passionate and dedicated” Tom French win? (That was a quote from his election address going out this weekend).  He is “local and active in our community”, and he is “listening and acting on your concerns”.  Tom French is a strong candidate, quite comfortably the most impressive of all the candidates. Trefor Hunter (Lib Dem) will do as well as he has done in countless elections over the past 25 years in Brighton – he will lose.  Rob Buckwell, the Conservative candidate, is a nice young man, but he doesn’t have it, at least not yet.  He can repeat Tory Party policies but he lacks the instincts required of a successful local politician – to make the issues of local residents the ones he champions.  And finally, Lizzie Deane.  What can I say?  She has run a very low-key campaign, hardly seen, even spending a weekend away in London.  Does she actually want to be a councillor?

What will probably happen is Lizzie Deane will hold the seat for the Greens with a much reduced majority over Tom French, with the Lib Dems and Tories contesting who will come a very poor fourth place.  The Greens would be wrong to dismiss any collapse in its majority as normal poor turn-out in a by-election.  After the success of Caroline Lucas in the general election, the Greens should romp home with a four figure majority.  It should be a wake-up call for the Green Party, its councillors and candidates.  If it is to break through the 20 councillor mark next May (and I really hope it does), it must ensure that it runs campaigns that epitomise its ambitions, not a half-hearted campaign as it has run in St Peter’s and North Laine.

As for Tom French, keep up the fight.  The City Council would benefit from someone of his calibre. I will watch his progress with much interest.

VAT is a mildly progressive form of taxation claims Vince Cable as supporters abandon the Lib Dems in droves

According to a poll published today, 48% of Lib Dem voters are now less inclined to back that party, and they  say that their change is as a direct result of the VAT increase.  How has Principled Vince responded.  He writes “No decision to raise tax is taken lightly, but VAT is more contentious than most. One reason is that VAT is often denounced as if it were the most regressive tax of all. However, the truth is more nuanced. As a proportion of expenditure, it is in fact mildly progressive”.

Yesterday I wrote of Cable: “The sight of Vince Cable bumbling and stuttering through feeble and half-hearted defences of his party’s total sell-out of his policies, his sound economic analysis and his principled stand on the banks, is pitiful.  Actually it is beneath contempt”.

Appearing on the Andrew Marr programme, as I write this, Cable dismissed the VAT Bombsell allegation made by the Lib Dems against the Tories “That was during the election campaign” and that the Lib Dems are now in coalition.

I wonder how Cable will justify the latest analysis of the ConDemNation budget.  It shows that the measures will hit the poorest six times harder than the rich.  The poorest 10%, those with an annual income of less than £14,200 will experience a 21.7% cut.  The richest, those with an annual income of over £49,700, with experience just a 3.6% cut.

How could someone who was so right about the banking crisis become so wrong about the impact of cuts on ordinary people?

St Peter’s and North Laine: Why the Lib Dems deserve to be humiliated

The Libe Dems are standing Trefor Hunter as its candidate in the St Peter’s and North Laine by-election on July 8th. In the latest Lib Dem ‘Focus’ newsletter that I understand is being distributed around the ward this weekend, Hunter attacks the Greens for failing to deal with congestion and pollution.

As someone who has fought and lost more elections than just about anyone else in Brighton over the last 30 years, Mr Hunter must surely be aware that the Greens have never formed the administration in Brighton and Hove.  In fact, his party’s coalition partner, the Conservative Party, are the administration locally and nationally.  He writes “Decades ago residents elected their first Green Councillor, but what difference has it really made?”.  Actually, quite a lot, and if we achieve a 20mph speed limit in Brighton I for one will be delighted.

The more relevant question is what difference does voting Lib Dem make?  In Brighton and Hove they are an absolute irrelevance.  In Brighton Kemptown and in Hove, they split the anti-Tory vote that saw two Labour candidates defeated and the election of two Conservatives.  Nationally, millions voted tactically or positively for the Lib Dems as a way of voting against the Conservatives.  What happened?  The Lib Dems jumped into bed with the Tories.  The sight of Vince Cable bumbling and stuttering through feeble and half-hearted defences of his party’s total sell-out of his policies, his sound economic analysis and his principled stand on the banks, is pitiful.  Actually it is beneath contempt.

If I had a vote in the St Peter’s and North Laine by-election, would I vote Lib Dem?  Give me an honest Tory any day. At least you know what you can expect from them.  The Lib Dems deserve to be truly humiliated in the by-election and in each test of voter opinion up to and beyond the next general election.