Is it time to consider tactical voting for May’s local elections in Brighton and Hove?

Can Brighton and Hove afford another four years with a minority administration? It might come as something of a surprise to many that I think the Tories have not done too badly as the administration for the last few years. Much of what they have done I can applaud, other things not. I have found all the Tories with whom I have engaged open and friendly. They have been prepared to listen. On the other hand, they seem to have two obsessions – with the motor car and with a minuscule cut in the Coucil Tax.

It is the young Tory candidates (in particular Momma Grizzly and The Estate Agent) who believe that the insignificant Council Tax cut is likely to put fire in the bellies of ordinary folk in Hollingdean and Stanmer and in Goldsmid wards. There seems to be collective denial that the savage cuts being imposed by the Coalition government might provoke a more negative reaction for them. They are fortunate that much of the anger has been channelled into two related issues – university fees and Education Maintenance Allowance – and that most of the anger is focused on the spineless Nick Clegg and his Yellow Band of Traitors. (Do you really think that I, on occasions, allow my feelings for the Lib Dems to show – damn them all to hell?).

Central government cuts are yet to bite fully, but when they do, the Tories will experience their own special pain. The Lib Dems will experience pain all too soon as they line up on May 5th with a request to voters: “Please punish me, and please make it hurt …. a lot”. (I believe that there have been Tory MP’s, no one current, who have paid good money for such services).

So, from a tactical voting perspective, who should be supported? Labour has little chance of forming an administration in May. If they stand still they will have done very well. They will pick up the odd seat here and there, but are likely to lose the same number, if not more, seats.

I’m therefore advocating a mass tactical vote in favour of the LIB DEMS. I’m sorry, I’ll type that again. I’m advocating a mass tactical vote AGAINST the Lib Dems. I don’t know what came over me there.

The Greens, for several years, the party in the ascendency, should end up with at least 20 seats, but with some tactical voting they could edge up to the magic 27. I am not advocating votes for Greens in seats where they don’t have a monkey’s chance of winning. No, I would still encourage Labour votes in those wards.

Should the Greens fail to reach 27, I hope that a coalition between the Greens and Labour might be achievable. Being the junior partner in such a coalition administration might be exactly what Labour needs – a reminder that they have lost the confidence of the people of Brighton and Hove. Labour councillors and activists should begin building for 2015, showing humility and respect, not least for Caroline Lucas and what she represents. Labour hopefuls could do a lot worse that listening to and learning from her. (I now await the predictable tirade from Labour activists that follows whenever I make such observations).

Does this make me a Green? Absolutely not. I remain torn between both parties and I expect to be voting for at least one Labour candidate in May. But I am impressed by my dealings with several Green councillors and activists and, of course, by Caroline Lucas herself. But the Greens have huge challenges ahead, not least how to respond to cuts being imposed from central government. Their talent ranges from the inner serenity and wisdom of the Buddha himself (Bill Randall), the experience of Pete West, the talent and discipline of Green Amy (not to mention her tasteful range of Stassi tabards), and the youthful potential, passion and energy of Lady Everton (Alex Phillips).

The election campaign is fascinating, but so too will be what emerges after May 6th.

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Are the Greens squeezing Labour and can Labour sqeeze the Tories in Brighton and Hove?

There continues to be a great debate in the comments section of this blog, showing the interest in May’s local elections.  I think Steampunk is quite right when he says that there is a unique political climate in Brighton.  Brighton and Hove can only be judged by Brighton and Hove standards.  It might even be more acurate to exclude Hove, actually!  The jury is still out whether the Greens will build on their single seat in Hove won by Alex Phillips in the Goldsmid by-election.  I suspect they will end with at least four seats, all three in Goldsmid and one (hopefully two) in Brunswick and Adelaide.

HP is wrong to dismiss the ‘Caroline effect’ as Luke Walter describes it.  The Caroline effect is a local phenomenon, and Labour activists are deluding themselves if they deny it.  Caroline Lucas has become a figure of hate for the hardcore band of Labour activists who see her as a greater enemy than the Tories.

Caroline Lucas has the effect of galvanising support for the anti-cuts movement.  Non-alligned, even many Labour suporters, are delighted that there is a Member of Parliament locally who is providing leadership against the cuts.

Compared to Ed Miliband, she at least is arguing consistently against the severity of the cuts, whereas Miliband is struggling by the idiotic ‘blank sheet of paper’ for the next 2 years.

Yes, there will be those who voted Green at the general election who will return to Labour in these local elections.  Depending on the candidates for whom I might vote, I could be one of them.  There are many, like me, who may split their votes, where there is a chance of electing a Green for the first time but not wishing to commit all support to the Greens for fear of electing Tories.  Having said that, Labour have shouted ‘wolf’ too often and frankly many people don’t believe them anymore having been warned that it was Labour or the Tories in Brighton Pavilion, and then seeing Lucas elected.

What is most likely is that more Labour supporters (and some Labour members) disillusioned by the Party locally and yet to be inspired by Miliband, will lend their votes to the Greens as often happens in local and European elections. 

That is why I remain of the opinion that Labour will lose out to the Greens in central Brighton and Hove, and possibly in the ‘northern’ wards, as Luke calls them.  What I hope for is that Labour, in traditional Labour / Tory areas (mainly in west Hove and Portslade), will pick up seats, but they must not underestimatethe effort the Tories are putting into these areas.

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.

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.

Preston Park: A three way marginal that will decide the future of the City Council

And then there was Preston Park.  This is the last of my reviews of what might happen in next year’s local elections.  Preston Park (or Preston Ward) as it used to be known under different boundaries) was once solid Conservative.  You know the old adage that if you put a blue rosette on a monkey it would get elected.  Well, in a County Council election in 1989, I think, the Tory candidate was someone called Gibbon!  And, you guessed it, he lost.

The ward had become a relatively safe Labour seat until May 2007 when Green Amy Kennedy upset the normal order by topping the poll with 1,633 votes.  She was the product of the Green’s cunning plan of encouraging a vote for one Green candidate, allowing traditional Labour voters a protest while still giving the majority of their votes to the Labour candidates.  In Preston Park two Labour councillors were re-elected, Juliet McCaffery (1,630 votes) and Kevin Allen (1,474).  The third Labour candidate and the two other Greens all polled over 1,000 votes.

This is a genuine marginal between Labour and the Greens with the Tories now well adrift.  (However, I wouldn’t altogether write off their chances). Green Amy is a favourite of this blogger for her Delia Smith impersonation and shamelessly donning of a Stassi-style tabard at the Green Party conference.  Far more importantly, though, is her record on the Council, championing women’s issues, and her record on Planning issues.  I would hope that, at some point in the future, she will stand in a winnable parliamentary seat for the Greens.  Her work as a ward councillor has impressed, and her reputation could well sweep two other Greens onto the Council.  (In case anyone is wondering, I am not the Mr K referred to in her, sadly, inactive blog).  I just hope that her qualities will not take her into professional green planning pastures and away from local politics.

Preston Park is a must win seat for the Greens should they wish to become the largest party on the Council.  My recommendation to voters in Preston Park is to vote Green, Green and, with their third vote, Green.

Queens Park: One of three key seats that will decide the Council in May 2011

Queens Park provided a complete body blow to Labour at the last local elections when three of its most senior members were beaten by the Greens.  Green Rachel Fryer topped the poll with a massive 1,826 votes, followed by Paul Steedman (1,549) and Ben Duncan (1,473).  The top Labour candidate was Delia Forrester just 15 votes behind Ben Duncan on 1,458 votes.  Former leader of the Council, Ken Bodfish was fifth (1,455) and the then Leader of the Council and Labour’s prospective candidate in Brighton Kemp Town, Simon Burgess (1,418).  The introduction of the School Place Lottery cost Labour dear.  The nice folk on East and West Drive didn’t want their darlings mixing with the ruffians from the Council estates.

This result was the low point for Labour at this election, and symbolised the unpopularity of the Labour Council.  The Greens had hoped to win one of the three seats, but won all three.  The three new councillors have worked very hard, are widely respected, and would expect to win all three again next May.  But there is a potential problem.  At one point it looked as though all three would be standing down in May, but they are reconsidering their positions.  Ben Duncan is definitely standing. He is probably the most high profile of the three, although both Rachel and Paul are highly respected within the ward and beyond.  I personally hope that at least one, if not both, will be on the ballot paper with Ben in May.

The Greens must hold all three seats in Queens Park if they are to become the largest party on the Council.  Even if Rachel and Paul don’t stand, the reputation of the Green Party in this ward should see them home.

For Labour, the three young men selected (Dan Chapman, Chris Cook and Tom French) will no doubt put in a strong performance, but their appeal will be limited. All three would hope to poll well in the gay community, but  Ben Duncan has a strong track record on campaigning on LGBT issues in the ward and beyond.  The Queens Park mafia broke the local party, and there is little enthusiasm or campaigning experience within the local Labour Party.  The unpopularity of Bodfish Forrester and Burgess might continue to be reflected in May’s poll.

Queens Park will be one of the key seats in May, and the result here will provide an indication whether Labour has turned the corner or whether its decline is still terminal.

I would like to see the Greens become the largest Party, not because I am a Green but because I think the Greens have the most energy and ideas locally.  Labour has had its opportunity and don’t deserve to get back in, not yet, anyway.

Regency: vote Green to keep the Tories out and to protest against Labour-supported witch hunt against Jason Kitcat

The result in Regency Ward in May 2007 epitomised the unexpected success across Brighton of the Greens.  The Greens expected to do well but not win the number of seats that they actually did.  One of the newly elected councillors, Hermione Roy, resigned her seat after a few months, allowing the election of the irrepressible  Jason Kitcat.

Regency is one of the few wards in the city that has returned Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem and Green councillors in recent years.  It remains a true four way marginal.  Until the mid 1980s it was a safe Tory area, then it went Labour as Labour won control of the old Brighton Council.  Later, the seats were shared between Labour and the Lib Dems (the Lib Dem clearly hadn’t expected to win), before the clean sweep by the Greens in 2007.

In May it will lose one of its current Green councillors as Sven Rufus moves to stand in Hollingbury and Stanmer ward.  This move is an indication of the ambition of the Green Party, that a sitting councillor is willing to stand in a ward that is winnable, but not a certain gain.

Jason Kitcat will be re-elected, and I predict with a massive majority.  There are two reason for this prediction.  Firstly, he is an outstanding ward councillor, tireless, hard-working, and easily recognisable. (His surname, in this respect, is an asset).  In my dealings with him he has ben diligent and reasonable, unlike some other councillors. 

Secondly, he is seen as the victim of a witch hunt by a combination of Labour and Conservatives.  The complaint against him to, and the decision by, the Standards Committee seems petty.  He faces a further hearing on 3rd November that could see him suspended from office for up to 6 months. It is my view that nobody should remove an elected representative other than the electorate.  Nobody likes bullies and I hope that the vote in May will see him elected with a significantly increased majority.

I advocate a vote for the Greens in Regency, both tactically to keep the Tories out and a protest against Labour’s collusion in the witch hunt against Jason Kitcat.