Poor Taste for my SpAd, and New Beginnings for Purna Sen and Nancy Platts

One of my over-promoted SpAds, by the name of Andy Winter, has just bought himself one of those new Apple wrist watches. It’s hideous, a sort of bilious blue. My young intern (lovely gel) tells me  it’s like a teenager’s Swatch, whatever that is. I expect my staff to maintain standards at this Blog. I’m terribly shocked. There don’t seem to be any standards these days. Have you seen the way council officers dress these days, slobbing about in jeans? Quite extraordinary.

I hear the lovely Nancy Platts has been elected as chairman of the Labour Party. Well done Nancy. I’m sure the party will do well under your leadership. Bad luck in the election.  As the incumbent, Simon Kirby had a good opportunity of keeping his ‘grip’ on the seat (I said the jokes would be bad). What wonderful hair he has. I do envy men with a full head of hair. 

Tough about Purna Sen too, but what a fantastic job she’s landed at the UN. Much better than being an MP. No constituents to worry about. Purna, you’re moving into the upper echelons of society, but, be advised, I’m very used to that world. if you need any advice just call on me, the humble blogger.

Whatever you do don’t trust that Obama chap. He ate all the cake and pocketed the spoons last time he came to tea.

The Campaign Trail – Highs and Lows, by Cllr Emma Daniel

This item was first posted on Cllr Emma Daniel’s own blog on 26th May 2015. She has kindly agreed to allow us to repost it on the Brighton Politics Blog.

It’s been ages since I blogged because campaigning took up every drop of physical and mental and emotional energy I could find. The by-election was quite time limited and, though like a bomb going off in my life, it was in effect a sprint. This last few months has been hitting the wall in the marathon and keeping going, taking a massive amount of optimism and hope to do so. I have never done this before. My colleagues have done it, and won and lost and got back up and done it again. I think my admiration for those with this experience couldn’t get any higher. Nor can my admiration for those with no election experience at all who rose to the occasion. There is nothing like it. If you haven’t volunteered for a political party I genuinely can’t recommend it enough.

I was chased out of a block of flats by a man calling me a war criminal and a paedo. I sprained my knee jumping down entrance steps as a big dog jumped out at me … canvassing with an existing fear of dogs is an emotional resilience mountain, I can tell you. (Yes, I know your dog just growls because he is being friendly, honest!)

I was told that the Greens would have been fine on the council if only those LABOUR MEANIES had supported them and that the i360 was ours (!!) also Valley Gardens (!!) and I mostly sucked that stuff up with good humour because I am good humoured. It goes with the territory. I did once, get a bit snappy with a morris man though which was probably the campaign nadir for me.

Overwhelmingly, though, people were LOVELY. Really and truly. Many were really supportive of political activists and I am lucky to work in one of the most politically knowledgeable and engaged wards in the city … which makes it really good to canvass.

In Hanover and Elm Grove, the campaign was a Labour vs Green council and parliament battleground, though there are a strong and loyal cohort of voters for other parties. It was good natured and I particularly commend David Gibson for his good humour and gentle nature displayed during both elections I fought with him. And next time, I do hope to bring at least one more Labour councillor with me. If we do a fair job on council I think that is possible.

The Parliamentary campaign was less good humoured, with many voters and activists decrying our candidate, Purna Sen, for even standing against Caroline Lucas. I felt this was unnecessary. Surely better to win the argument rather than be handed the seat? And fair play to her, she increased her majority. Our Purna is now working on global women’s issues for the UN and based in New York for the year. A fair and just tribute to her skills and experience. I hope she returns as a parliamentary candidate in future as parliament will be the richer for her participation.

On polling day I ended up sun burnt again! When will I ever learn? But we did an amazing job in Hanover and Elm Grove with a much more politically engaged and genuine relationship with the voters on the small council estates in the ward and an increased membership which just keeps going.

And then it was dark and I was stumbling home with very stiff legs when I saw the exit polls on twitter. It was like being run over. How had we lost the argument nationally so badly? Now there are endless articles explaining it of course – we weren’t left enough … we weren’t centre ground enough. But the thing is, we did lose the argument nationally.

A few days later and we were at the count with new Labour MP Peter Kyle for Hove (a massively cheering feature of the national results) and the former PPC for Kemptown, the lovely Nancy Platts, who despite her own grief at her narrow loss in the parliamentary elections came to stand by the local candidates.

On polling day, and at the count, I was convinced that the Caroline Lucas surge had wiped out the good work we had done in Hanover and Elm Grove on our council campaigning as I spoke to many voters who never normally vote who were going to vote for Caroline and had absolutely no idea there was even a council election on. But I held on and that was absolutely amazing. I am so grateful for the campaign volunteers, the party support and the support of the ward residents who do really care about who runs the council and provides them with a voice.

Going to a count is probably the most amazing and most brutal experience of my life. Seeing experienced and decent councillors wiped out, seeing talented colleagues voted in. I think I hugged everybody. I can’t really describe the count … the amazing officers plugging away with the ballot papers, the scrum of party activists and candidates checking the count and calculating results as they came out. The tears. I cried. And the jubilation. I think it’s the closest I will come to understanding football emotions.

Going through that process it’s clear that the voters of this city haven’t felt that one party has won the argument, and that many vote for councillors they personally believe in. But, they have marginally supported a Labour vision for the city but also giving us the message that they want us to be collaborative with other parties. To seek consensus where we can. And to consider the views of residents in developing schemes and projects.

Random reflections on being a candidate, by Graham Cox

It’s a cold, wet January day in London and I have been summonsed to the ‘war room’ in Conservative HQ. It’s my turn to meet the legendary Aussie, Lynton ‘barnacles on the boat’ Crosby, and hear my fate.
Having only been selected as the Hove Conservative candidate the previous July, we are one of the last target seats to have been polled by ‘Lynton.’

The previous October had seen the (Lord) Ashcroft ‘marginal’ poll for Hove, which suggested Labour were ahead but just about within reach. The bookies certainly had Labour firm favourites to regain the ‘bellwether’ Hove seat. With Mike Weatherley having been forced to stand down because of his battle with stage 3 oesophageal cancer we had no ‘incumbency factor’. Labour had picked a sensible, articulate candidate in Peter Kyle, with strong links to the Blairite pressure group, Progress, and it has to be said the advantage of matinee idol good looks. Anything better than the Ashcroft poll suggested we still had a chance though.

In his Aussie accent, and with just the occasional swear word, Lynton took me through the results. Labour were 6 points ahead but ‘don’t worry there is a margin of error of +/- 4% so it could be as close as 2%,’ said Lynton kindly.  It seemed two thirds of Hove residents did not want a Conservative Government, and more of them had heard of Peter than me.

Discussing the results afterwards over a coffee in St James St with my team (well me and my campaign manager) we comforted ourselves that maybe it really was ‘all to play for’. The residents of Hove might not want a Conservative majority Government, had barely heard of me, the margin of error might actually mean Labour were 10 points ahead but at least they were not keen on Ed Miliband for Prime Minister.

Fast-forward 4 months and its now 3 days before polling day. Weeks of door knocking, telephone calls, canvassing, surveying, hustings, media interviews and endless leaflet deliveries are nearly over.  Once again I have made my brilliant campaign manager crunch the numbers in our state of the art campaign tool ‘Vote Source’. Over 16,000 Hove residents have told us they will ‘definitely or probably’ vote Conservative. ‘Turn all them out on Thursday and pick up another 2000 we do not know about and, you know, we can win,’ was the optimistic verdict.

The rest, as they say, is history – not only did we turn out those 16,000 Conservative voters, we actually found another 4,800. Over 20,800 people voted for me, the highest Conservative vote in Hove since 1992. At least 2,000 more than even our most optimistic projections – and of course I lost.

Now the dust has settled, I have the time to listen to Test Match Special, and pen an article for the Brighton Politics Blog (no I am not saying who asked me) reflecting on the experience of being a candidate.

It really was huge honour to have been selected by local Conservatives to contest the Hove seat. I had been born here, lived in the area most of my life and was the last Police Commander before the old Hove Police Division was taken over by (sorry amalgamated with) Brighton.
Being a local councillor for Westbourne had its frustrations compared to policing, not least the petty bickering and inability to get things done, but helping local people find the way through the tortuous council bureaucracy was intensely satisfying. More than once it seemed to me that I was performing a role akin to a caring vicar, but without the religion (certainly not in Brighton anyway!)

I would probably have carried on doing that – electors permitting – had Mike not announced he would stand down. I knew he had been seriously ill but had always respected his decision to treat this as a private matter and had anticipated that now he was in remission that he would stand again. It was only because it was Hove that I put myself forward.

Despite the disappointment of the result I am so glad I did. Normal life ceased to exist for 9 months. Knocking on doors every day and speaking to people about politics and the issues which concern them is strange behaviour. I did not meet too many ‘errupters’, as my Green opponent, Christopher Hawtree, described those who did not welcome a visit from someone asking for their vote.

I particularly enjoyed canvassing in Portslade. The residents of Portslade and Mile Oak definitely felt that their part of the city was neglected and to some extent forgotten about compared to the more ‘fashionable’ parts of town. Maybe that is why even those who had no intention of voting for me were unfailingly polite. In Portslade I met many people who responded to my questions with something like ‘ I’m a Labour man, always have been, but thanks for calling and good luck.’
This contrasted somewhat with the response in the Victorian villas, newly gentrified terraced housing and grand flats of the latte drinking (with soya milk) areas of central Hove. More than once I nervously knocked on the (stripped pine) door of a £1million house, took in the Farrow and Ball wallpaper in the hallway, as the householder exclaimed, ‘I’m a senior manager in the Strategy Consultation, Coordination and Service Delivery Department at ‘x’ Council and I would not vote Conservative as long as I have a hole in my axxx,’ abruptly followed by a ringing slam.

The result in Hove actually fitted with similar results in parts of Metropolitan London (e.g. Hampstead) and interestingly Cambridge and Oxford. I never actually met the Liberal Democrat candidate for Hove, and am not sure he ever visited the seat from his home in Surrey. It was always obvious that the Liberal Democrat ‘vote’ would collapse here, and in contrast to the Midlands, southwest and more rural areas, in newly Metropolitan Hove this was always likely to benefit Labour more.

In fairness to Peter Kyle he fought an excellent campaign. It was no use me complaining about his targeting of the Brunswick and Adelaide and Goldsmid wards with a ‘vote Green and you get the Tories’ message – this was a sensible electoral tactic and I would have done exactly the same in his position.

Where I do take a certain amount of pride is in the effort we forced Labour to make in order to gain Hove. They had to throw huge amounts of resources – paid campaign staff, activists from across the country, volunteers and cash (and a state of the art office!) – directly at Hove. Every weekend, well according to social media anyway, they had over 50 people coming here canvassing. They carpet bombed the seat with national direct mail, they had banks of people telephone canvassing this seat specifically and on election day itself they had 100’s (one message on Facebook suggested they had 600 volunteers here) of people bussed in to knock up their voters.

Once they realised the fight we were putting up Progress, the Blairite pressure group, pretty much sent all their members to Hove to campaign from Christmas onwards.
We could never compete directly with this – nor indeed would it have been a wise use of resources by the Conservative Party nationally to have done so.

However our small but dedicated local team did get out and deliver and canvass like no other local team in a target seat. According to the Ashcroft polls we actually managed more voter contact than any other marginal seat being targeted by Labour.

As a result of this Labour were not able to redirect any resources from Hove to other target seats (which at one point I am assuming they been hoping to do). To some extent, using an analogy from my police days (military folk will know what I am on about) we were the ‘tethered goat.’ Labour had to expend so many resources fighting us that their big guns, their lions, could not go to other seats in the south they had hoped to win.

There may even be a reasonable case to claim that despite Hove providing the only gain for Labour in the southeast outside London, our small team here played a significant part in the overall Conservative victory.

That rather large crumb of comfort was not for me though the highlight of the campaign. That came in a marvellous hour I spent talking with a full class of year 6 pupils at Cottesmore School. The final question they asked certainly had me stumped – ‘Do you think Mr. Cox we should we return the Elgin Marbles to Greece?’ ‘Err, umm, yes possibly, may be not, waffle, Greek economy, err perhaps but I do not really know’ was the gist of my less than convincing answer. Sadly the question had come before the appearance of the Ed Stone.

What will I do next? To be honest I have no idea (all offers gratefully received). As well as enjoying the cricket, and picking the first winner of the Derby for 20 years under a majority Conservative Government, I am reading Steve Hilton’s book, ‘More Human’. It’s idealistic, probably unrealistic in places, but buried in his vision are coherent ideas, which all the Parties should at least consider. Decentralisation is a theme running though it, with proposals for 10,000 directly elected mayors.

Brighton and Hove, for all its famed vibrancy, has struggled for years under minority administrations that have as a result ceded too much power to the loud but small set of people who specialise in being against things. We have an opportunity to create a southern powerhouse in the Brighton City region, which can rival anything that is happening in Greater Manchester or Leeds. Steve Hilton, born in Brighton, for elected Mayor of our city region. That would be something I could campaign for.

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.

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