Labour needs to do more than find a new leader: it must again become a movement. by Andy Winter

A concept I used to refer to regularly in the earlier incarnation of this blog was borrowed from the West Wing, the Big Mo – Momentum. Political parties in the ascendency enjoy momentum, and with it can come political success. Up to the 2011 council elections the Green Party locally had the Big Mo. Labour enjoyed the Big Mo in 1997.

In 2015, the old Big Mo, as in momentum, has given way to a new Big Mo – Movement. A political movement transcends party politics, it is a positive force routed in aspiration for change. Such aspiration should not be confused with the shallow use of the word when applied to ‘hard working families’ or ‘strivers’. 

The independence referendum in Scotland, although unsuccessful, unleashed something that proved to be the death knell of the major parties in Scotland on 7th May.  The support the SNP enjoyed came from across the political spectrum. People were not necessarily voting for the SNP as a party, but for what the SNP symbolised. There was a sense amongst the people that things could be different, could be better. It overcame the politics of austerity of the Conservatives and austerity-lite of Labour. And with it Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems were all but wiped out north of the border.

Across the UK, the debate about the new leader of the Labour Party is focused on the ‘presidential’ characteristics of some rather bland individuals who appear to be more concerned about not offending anyone than putting forward a message of hope. Austerity-lite is neither one thing or another. The revolutionary slogans of the 1970s and ’80s have given way to ones mumbled by those unwilling or incapable of arguing an alternative economic plan:

“What do we want?”

“Cuts!”

“When do we want them?”

“Not as quickly as you!”

The debate demonstrates that Labour activists and commentators have learned nothing from the movement in Scotland that has thrust the SNP into the forefront of British politics. They have not grasped that the people of Scotland didn’t just vote for a party, they voted for a movement.

By comparison, Nichola Sturgeon embodies the hopes and aspirations of the majority, yes the majority, of voters in Scotland.  The Sturgeon / SNP Phenomenon has reached far beyond Scotland. I can’t remember how many times during the elections people in Brighton said to me:  “I wish I could vote for Nichola Sturgeon”.

But it wasn’t that Sturgeon presented herself in a presidential manner. The debate between the seven party leaders was a watershed in British politics, with three women party leaders showing that they offered more than four rather grey stale males. They spoke to ordinary people and, in particular, to ordinary women. They spoke ‘human’. Isabel Hardman from the Spectator said that if she had had a bad day, got caught in a down pour, and had lost her keys, she would want to pop in for a cup of tea with Lianne Wood. Lianne Wood is the next door neighbour we all wish we had.

I imagine many Labour activists and supporters regard Nichola Sturgeon as the leader they wished they had. 

But that is where they would be going wrong. A party is more than its leader. Electoral success has become much more than just the Big Mo.

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 http://twitter.com/BrightonPolitic

Brighton Politics Blogger

‘War Crime’ allegations against Tony Blair causing ongoing problems for Labour

A problem that Labour continues to have, and one that it would love to wish away, is the issue of Tony Blair. Labour activists will tell you that it is not an issue on the doorstep or that we should be looking forward. I sympathise with those Labourites who marched against the war and desperately want this issue to be forgotten.

Unfortunately, Tony Blair and Iraq will just not go away. There are calls from the idiot wing of the Blairites that he should be brought back to help Labour’s prospects for 2015. (I imagine the Greens and Lib Dems would love the human manifestation of this grotesque war to return).

Archbishop Desmond Tutu refused to share a platform with him at a conference in Johannesburg on Friday, and in today’s Observer the Nobel Peace Prize winner has called for Blair and George W Bush to be put on trial at The Hague.

He writes in today’s Observer: “The then leaders of the United States [Mr Bush] and Great Britain [Mr Blair] fabricated the grounds to behave like playground bullies and drive us further apart. They have driven us to the edge of a precipice where we now stand – with the spectre of Syria and Iran before us.

“To say that the fact that Saddam massacred hundreds of thousands of his citizens is irrelevant to the morality of removing him is bizarre.”

He added: “The question is not whether Saddam Hussein was good or bad or how many of his people he massacred. The point is that Mr Bush and Mr Blair should not have allowed themselves to stoop to his immoral level.”

Referring to the death toll as a result of military action in Iraq since 2003 he said: “On these grounds, alone, in a consistent world, those responsible should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in The Hague.”

Tony Blair has responded angrily, repeating his usual line that Iraq and the world is better off without Saddam Hussain. The problem with that position is that it is a public interest defence, it doesn’t go to the heart of the allegation. It is a plea of mitigation but it does not respond to the basic allegation that the war itself was illegal.

Blair and Iraq remain a spectre that haunts Labour’s efforts to rehabilitate itself in the run-up to 2015. Tony Blair remains a member of the Labour Party. It ill-becomes a party that it has amongst its ranks a man who many in and out of the Party regards as someone who has questions to answer about war crimes.

While Labour refuses to act against Blair, or while its activists remain in denial about the legacy of Iraq, there remain electoral consequences in Brighton and Hove. It was a factor that saw Caroline Lucas pip Nancy Platts at the post in 2010 (in spite of Nancy’s unblemished record as an anti-war activist

And it goes further for Labour. There was the entire Cabinet who supported the war, and there are the ranks of back benchers who voted for this war. They did so because of the hope of preferment or because they were simply obeying orders from the Whips. Remember, there was an honourable member of the Cabinet who resigned on principle  over the war and there were a hundred or so Labour back benchers who also voted against it (in spite of threats and bullying).

A lingering doubt remains: how would a future Labour Government respond if the ‘intelligence’ demanded action against the next international villain? With Blair there, or thereabouts, I retain more than a sense of unease

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (not forgetting the buses)

Planes, Trains and Automobiles was a 1987 film starring John Candy and Steve Martin. Twenty five years later we could be in for a remake set in Sussex called Trains, Buses and Automobiles. These are issues that could influence the 2015 general and local elections.

The Government has announced that rail fares are going up by more than the rate of inflation for the tenth year in a row. Why is Mike Weatherley not press releasing his support for his government? He knows that this is a source of increasing anger for commuters. Caroline Lucas was quick off the mark, along with one of the Green’s European Parliament candidates, Alex Phillips, leafleting at Brighton Station and appearing on the local news.

Public transport, and trains in particular, is the remit of Norman Baker, the Lib Dem/Conservative Coalition MP for Lewes. The good news for Stormin’ Norman is that rail fare increases will have little impact on his chances of re-election because he is already toast. We haven’t forgotten his written pledge to oppose increases in tuition fees, and then voted to support such increases. (Old joke: what is smaller than the Higgs Bossom god particle? A Lib Dem’s backbone).

Labour has done well on the buses, scoring a couple of direct hits on the Greens. That should serve them well in a couple of wards, although these wards are already Labour held or in the case of Rottingdean Coastal solid Tory. It is fortunate that come 2015 the octogenarian Brian Fitch will step up his campaigns to save the threatened numbers 5, 49, 27, 81, 26 and 50. What would help Labour is if the party at a national level came out with a bold policy saying that it will increase subsidies for local bus and train routes in order to get people out of their cars and onto public transport.

Automobiles, and in particular parking of such, will be an issue in the locals in 2015. Tories and Labour continue to make hay about the downturn in visitor numbers and blaming the increase in parking charges. I am not so sure if that is the whole picture. The Olympics, the ‘summer’ and the economic downturn are likely to have been more significant factors.

The People’s Mike hasn’t been completely quiet, writing to the City Council’s outgoing Chief Executive, John Barradell, urging greater provision for bikers. Is this a huge vote winner in Hove Park where Labour is campaigning energetically? I am told that Labour had an “amazing day in Hove Park. No exaggeration, we were really surprised how many Labour votes there were – and disaffected Tories”. Mike will certainly be relying on the Hell’s Angels Chapter of this parish for his re-election. He certainly can’t rely on the commuters.

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.

Forget the Westbourne by-election: prepare for the next Battle of Hastings

While the Eurozone is in meltdown and International Capitalism is in crisis, the goldfish bowl of Brighton and Hove politics sees little further than the Green’s budget. The trenches of this battleground are concentrated in a few streets in Hove in Westbourne Ward. This first test of the Green administration is fascinating, with activists cheering on their own champions: Louisa Greenbaum (Green), Graham Cox (Conservative) and Nigel Jenner (Labour).

The UKIP candidate in the Westbourne by-election is being cheered on very loudly by Paul Perrin who is, by coincidence, the UKIP candidate in the Westbourne by-election. The candidates of the other parties have no cheerleaders, no one to defend their honour, and they make a sad sight as they trudged the streets, looking for a sympathy vote. How they would love a Christopher Hawtree, a Momma Grizzly, a Caroline Penn. At this time of peace and goodwill to all please take pity on the candidates for the Lib Dems, TUSC and the European Movement for the Annex of Schleswig-Holstein (I suspect I might have got that last one wrong – bloody predictive text).

But while the pavements of Westbourne are being pounded by the usual suspects, east of the centre of the Universe, in Hastings and Rye, a fascinating local skirmish is developing. It is a fascinating area where at the general election the constituency went from Labour to Conservative while on the same day the town council went from Conservative to Labour control.

The highly popular and well-respected Labour MP, Michael Foster, was defeated by the formidable Blue Tory Lady, Amber Rudd. Her cause was helped by the addition of Tory-stronghold of Rye to the constituency. Since polling day she has carefully nurtured the constituency, making friends and influencing people. As a constituency MP she will be hard to shift, although the backlash against the Tories and their Lib Dem poodles will keep this as a marginal seat. One fears for the future of the decent Stephen Lloyd in Eastbourne while Lord Baker of Lewes is set for higher things (the House of Lords) where he won’t have to renege on written pledges to his constituents.

But hark (a Christmas reference) who is that emerging from stage left, to challenge the incumbent? Who is this apprentice politician hoping to say to Ms. Rudd, “You’re fired!”. (And why this ever-so feeble attempt to mimic Lord Sugar?). For it is Sarah Owen, the newly selected Labour candidate.

Sarah is currently political advisor to Lord Sugar and is helping to develop Labour’s national small business policy. Previously she worked in the emergency planning department of the London Fire Brigade. And just in case My Pal Paul is worried that she might have worked in a genuine small business, thereby ruining his belief that all Labour, Tory and Green politicians have never worked in the ‘real world’, she did work as a ‘political assistant’ at … Brighton and Hove City Council!

And how did Ms Rudd react to Ms Owen’s selection? A little back-handed compliment: “It will be nice to have a new voice in Hastings and Rye for people on behalf of Labour.”

Drawing up the battle lines in Brighton, Hove, Lewes, Ditchling, St John (Without) ……….

The lunatic redrawing of constituency boundaries has provoked much comment. Mike Weatherley has, not surprisingly, welcomed the new arrangements. He would, wouldn’t he, as the new Brighton and Hove North constituency is more winnable against a Green campaign that the current Hove constituency. Gone from Brighton and Hove North are the new Green wards of Goldsmid, Brunswick & Adelaide, and the half Green ward of Central Hove, and the arrival of Regency into the Hove constituency has been avoided.

Caroline Lucas will be laughing all the way to her landslide victory in 2015 with a constituency that currently has all Green councillors less Andrew Wealls in Central Hove.

It has been suggested that, contrary to what I said yesterday – that the new boundaries have been designed to contain the Greens – the new boundaries have been proposed in order to minimise the number of both Labour and Lib Dem MP’s. In Brighton and Hove the prospect of seeing a Labour MP elected for the next 25 years is near zero.

And on the matter of Labour, Simon Burgess has announced, through a comment on this blog, that he will not be seeking election in 2015. Perhaps with the proposed boundary changes he felt that he would be on a hiding to nothing. He would be right, but I personally hope that he seeks election, once again, to the City Council.

So who might Labour field in Brighton and Hove? The Brighton Kemp Town with Lewes and all stations to Ditchling constituency could be a fight between Stormin’ Norman (a Lib Dem enabler of the Tories) and Simon Kirby (occasional rebel Tory). What a choice! Could Labour secure enough votes to slip through the middle in a three way contest? Not if their performance in Lewes in recent years is anything to go by. The Greens? Not in 2015 but if they secure support from disillusioned Labour and, more to the point, mightily pissed off Lib Dem supporters, they could put up a challenge in 2015 and lay the foundations for 2020.

In Brighton Pavilion and Hove, Labour is likely to field someone who dances to the tune of Tom Lehrer’s Masochism Tango. Caroline Lucas is likely to be returned with one of the largest majorities in the Commons. Labour might struggle to hold its deposit.

In Brighton and Hove North, with Simon Burgess out of consideration in spite of a dedicated Facebook page and talk, as recently as Sunday, that the party machinery was lining him up for the candidacy, the way is left open for Dr Peter Kyle, a favourite of the national leadership and deputy chief executive of the chief executive’s organisation, Acevo. Dr Kyle has begun commenting on this blog which says he is either very discerning or perhaps a bit desperate!

I suspect that the candidate most likely to mount the most effective campaign against Mike Weatherley will be a Green. It will be less likely that this will be a Green gain than before, but after the High Noon Showdown between Kirby and Baker, it will be the most interesting fight in Sussex. Having been one of the most interesting elections in the country, the Brighton Pavilion election result in 2015 will be the most predictable in the country.

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