Forecasting the results of May’s local elections in Brighton and Hove – a dangerous activity

The local elections are just over two weeks away, and the outcome of these elections is the most difficult to predict in years.

The current state of the parties is:

  • Conservatives 21
  • Labour 19
  • Greens 11
  • Independents 2
  • Vacancy 1

All three parties have high hopes of increasing their representation, and all three have lesser or greater hopes of being the largest party. There is a slim, very slim, chance that there will be a majority administration for the first time in years.

Starting with the Conservatives, they have their eyes set on winning two seats snatched from them by Labour in 2015: Westbourne and Central Hove. They might also hope to hold on to one seat in Moulsecoomb and Bevendean, that of Anne Meadows who recently defected from Labour. They would also hope to pick up both seats in North Portslade, although I can’t see them shifting Labour’s Peter Atkinson. My prediction is that they will see no net change and remain on 21, gaining one seat and losing one.

Labour has high hopes of increasing their reputation from the 23 they won in 2015. This number has decreased to 19 with the defection of Anne Meadows, the recent vacancy caused by the resignation of Caroline Penn, and two councillors becoming independents, former leader Warren Morgan and t, both who joined the Independent Group (although the latter resigned from that Group last week). Labour will be confident of regaining all four of these seats and will be targeting Green-held seats in Hanover (2), Goldsmid (2) and Preston Park (1). The Party is also eying up an additional seat in both Central Hove and Westbourne. In an exceptional year they might fancy their chances of winning back Hangleton and Knoll, but it would require a political earthquake to do so this time. My prediction is Labour will see a net increase of two seats, gaining four and losing two, leaving them equal with the Conservatives on 21.

The Greens lost a large number of seats to Labour last time, taking them from the largest to the smallest group on the City Council. They are hoping to regain many of these including in Hollingdean and Stanmer (3), Queens Park (3), Preston Park (2), and Hanover (1). They have also been active in Moulsecoomb and Bevendean (3), targeting the student vote. And then there is Westbourne where that electoral phenomenon, Christopher Hawtree, is standing. Only a foolish person would write off his chances of winning the Greens first ever seat in that ward. If the Greens were to be successful in all these contests, they would end up with 24 seats, relegating Labour to third place. However, I predict that they will hold their current seats and pick up just one additional one.

The Liberal Democrat’s don’t hold any seats, and I cannot see any area where they will make a breakthrough this time.

All in all, all four parties will be left disappointed. A extra seat here or there will decide whether Labour or the Conservatives are the largest party, with the balance of power being held, once again, by the Greens.

Congratulations to the Greens for making history in Brighton and Hove

I must first of all start by congratulating the Greens on a result that exceeded just about everyone’s expectations. It exceeded mine. I thought the Greens would end up with 21 or 22 seats. I didn’t expect the two amazing results in Withdene where Sue Shanks topped the poll, nor Christopher Hawtree’s sensational efforts in Central Hove. I suspect that Green High Command had some doubts, but one man did not share them – Chris Hawtree himself.

The Greens have emerged from this election with 23 councillors (including 6 in Hove, up from 1), the Tories are down to 18 and Labour have remained static with 13. The Lib Dems have been wiped out as predicted, hoped for and encouraged by this Blogger. Labour now has just one councillor in Brighton Pavilion where the Greens are now winning in Tory strongholds.

Before touching on other results, can I mention those sitting councillors who have lost their seats. Politics can be cruel, and election losses for sitting politicians offers no hiding place. Focus is on those who have been victorious, but this evening we should pause to thank the following for their service to the City, often at a cost that ordinary citizens, even party activists, don’t see and can’t always appreciate: Paul Elgood, David Watkins, Jan Young, Melanie Davis, Ayas Fallon-Khan, Pat Hawkes, Christine Simpson, Maria Caulfield, Trevor Alford, Kevin Allen, Juliet McCaffery, Steve Harmer-Strange, Ted Kemble.

I got one result hopelessly wrong – Moulsecoomb and Bevendean – where I felt that Maria Caulfield would win and, on her coat tails, Ayas Fallon-Khan (moving from Goldsmid) and Cath Slater (well known locally) would cause an upset in Labour’s back yard. I was wrong. And so I eat Humble Pie (though I do prefer Sugar Puffs). And congratulations to Labour’s team in M&B, Leigh Farrow, Mo Marsh and mayor-elect, Anne Meadows. This result, along with the return of the Legend that is Brian Fitch in Hangleton and Knoll, the anticipated gains by Penny Gilbey in North Portslade and Alan Robins in South Portslade, and the unexpected election of Anne Pissaridou in Wish, were the few positives on a day when it seemed the Greens were conquering everything before it.

A bitter-sweet result, and one predicted in this blog, was Jeane Lepper successfully defending her seat in Hollingdean and Stanmer. A combination of the Lepper name and Jeane’s own reputation as a hard-working and effective caseworker saw her survive. One of the few errors the Greens made this year was to underestimate Jeane Lepper.

A quick word on the one Green who was not successful in H&S, Luke Walter. Luke must be incredibly disappointed tonight, but he should be proud of his achievements. He probably worked harder than any candidate in H&S, but electoral politics can be unfair, especially when your surname begins with a W or a Y (ask Jan Young). Luke has the advantage of age on his side, and his time will come before long. (I will be blogging on the fortunes of all the young candidates in the near future. None of them, other than sitting councillor, Alex Phillips, who I heard described as the “Baby of the Chamber” today, was elected.

But the day belonged to the Greens who, I understand, were in celebratory mood when they retired to the Cricketers Pub for an orange juice after the count. Never before in the United Kingdom have the Greens become the largest group on a Council, and this is the largest group of Greens ever elected (what do you think of that, Norwich?). So congratulations to all newly and re-elected Greens throughout Brighton AND HOVE. I will blog more on the Greens remarkable achievements and the challenges that lie ahead in the next few days. But for now, enjoy the night, encourage Bill Randall to go wild and have another lemonade, return to your constituencies and prepare for ….. I’m not sure. A coalition? A minority administration? Definitely Christopher Hawtree to be Lead Councillor for Libraries! Congratulations, All.

Ten days to go and the campaign has gone oh so quiet

I’ve been silent for much of the last week, listening and observing. I have spent a bit of time in the majority of wards, for one reason or another, and spoken to several candidates in each party. What has emerged is a depressing picture – and election campaign that has failed to catch the imagination of the City, including party activists and members.

With very few exceptions (East Brighton, Queens Park, and seats in west Hove) Labour is in the doldrums. Some candidates and councillors are out and about, but in some seats it has been hard to get any party members to do any door knocking. In one town centre ward, just the three candidates have done in any door knocking and even then one of the three has limited his activity to the minimum.

It is largely candidates and councillors doing 95% of the work for Labour. So disorganised are they in some seats that members have complained about not being given posters for their windows, while others have decided not to out them up at all.

Members in Queens Park are full of praise for the tireless efforts of Tom French (no surprise there) and to a limited extent his running mates. In East Brighton, Warren Morgan (no doubt fortified by regular supplies of Sugar Puffs), Craig Turton (masquerading as the Sugar Monster) and Gill Mitchell, are going about their business with quiet determination (I said QUIET DETERMINATION, Warren). Labour posters are in clear evidence in East Brighton, but other than Hollingdean and Stanmer, and Hangleton and Knoll, this election is resembling a poster-free zone.

Tim Ridgeway recently counted the posters he could see from the number 26 bus (Chuck, the 26 goes from Churchill Square to the Hollingbury Industrial Estate) and he counted less than 10 posters in all. This included the Green heartland of St Peters and North Laine where Labour posters are numbering the same as Green posters. (I’m not predicting a shock result here but my sources have been impressed by the one woman campaign being run by young Clare Calder who is said to be out on the doorstep most days).

The Greens are faring a bit better, with activists turning out and members from beyond Brighton coming in at weekends to help. Momentum has been maintained in their key target seats. Much effort is going into defending the seats in Queens Park and challenging for gains in Brunswick and Adelaide and in Goldsmid where Green posters are clearly in evidence and Labour posters largely absent.

In Hanover and Elm Grove, where Labour is focussing much of its efforts, moving resources from elsewhere in the city, the small advances being made by Labour in what was once its safest seat, will come nowhere near displacing the Buddha (Bill Randall) and his two Green running mates.

Hollingdean and Stanmer continues to be a hot-bed of activism. Momma Grizzly is out most weekends but most of her efforts are focused on Coldean. Jeane Lepper has been here, there and everywhere, like a Catherine Wheel of bonfire night, and always a complimentary word for her Green opponents (well, perhaps not). But it is the Greens that are most evident and winning the poster war. In particular, Luke Walter is campaigning full time. Ironically he could be the loser in this Alphabet Election as he is bottom of the ballot paper and might be pipped to the post by Jeane Lepper.

In Regency, when James Asser isn’t stuck on trains, he and Dan Wilson, along with the Determined Anne Freeman, are working their socks off, but so too are the Kitcat Two. Dan and James may well reduce the Green majority but they have too much to make up.

Finally, Moulsecoomb and Bevendean looks as though it may produce a split result, but the Tories remain narrow favourites to take all three seats but Anne Meadows might yet hold on to her seat.

I still don’t have a feel for the campaigns in Central Hove, Wish and Westbourne wards. Has everyone given up and gone home? And what of Christopher Hawtree? It is very quiet on the Hawtree Front and our readers are missing your daily overview. Just 10 days to go and it will all be almost over …..

Will Labour have any councillors in Kemptown after May 5th?

The Ghost of Nobby Clarke asks “What odds that the Labour Party have NO councillors in Brighton Kemptown after May 5th? (including East Saltdean, Telscombe Cliffs and Peacehaven). 30 Town councillors, 9 district councillors and 14 City councillors are up for grabs (the two conservative held County council seats are not up for election this year).”

No way, says the attractive Craig Turton: “Unlikely I’d say based on canvass returns and door step reactions. Certainly in EB there has been a level of voter enthusiasm for Labour which I can’t recall before in 2003 or 2007, eg; being asked for posters to display unprompted. QP colleagues tell a similar story.”

Sugar Puff addict, Warren Morgan, agrees with Craig: “No, no blue/red coalition (said in my calmest voice). Yes, there will be Labour councillors in Brighton Kemptown after May 6th, between 7 and 9 I predict. Hanover…I can’t remember seeing Labour posters on Elm Grove last April, but they are there now.”

Of course there will be Labour councillors left in Kemptown after the elections. The aforesaid Morgan and Turton, along with Gill Mitchell, will all be re-elected with thumping majorities in East Brighton. (I have this image of Warren and Craig, together with two of the Tory candidates for the area, Peter Booth and Kelvin Poplett, not a hair on their head between them, tucking into bowls of Sugar Puffs – how surreal is that?).

Labour is making a mark on the campaign in Queens Park, but the record of the Green councillors over the last four years should see them through, even though two of the sitting councillors are standing down. Expect Ben Duncan, who scraped in last time, to top the poll this time. It is possible that Queens Park might produce a split result, with one Labour candidate being elected. My money, though, remains with a Green 1, 2, 3.

Warren points to Labour posters in Elm Grove which is, I believe, still in Brighton Pavilion. Correct me if I am wrong.

And then there is Moulsecoomb and Bevendean (or Moulsecomb, as Labour continues to spell it on their website). This ward is currently split, with Labour councillors Mo Marsh and Anne Meadows, and the Tory councillor, Maria Caulfield. My judgement might go AWOL when confronted by Marsh, Meadows and Caulfield (don’t get me started on Jeane Lepper …), but I think the lovely Ayas Fallon-Khan and Maria will prevail. In a change from previous predictions, Cath Slater and Anne Meadows will be neck and neck, and I think Anne might just inch it.

So, in reply to the Ghost, yes, there will be Labour councillors in Kemptown on May 6th. I predict that there will be four of them.

Moulsecoomb and Bevendean, Tories take on Labour in its heartland

If there is any area in Brighton and Hove that should be rock solid Labour, it is Moulsecoomb and Bevendean.  It should be an area where a Tory should fear to show their faces.  But it is a sign of where Labour now stands that there is a Tory councillor in the area.  Perhaps more significant is the appeal of key Tories that sizeable numbers of working class people are happy to vote Conservative.

The two Tories who best represent the broad appeal of that party are Council Leader, Mary Mears, and Moulsecombe and Bevendean councillor Maria Caulfield.  It was Maria Caulfield who snatched a seat in 2007 when she polled 984 votes.  Labour’s Mo Marsh and Anne Meadows each polled 1,018 while the third Labour candidate, Liz Telcs came sixth with 848 having been beaten by the other 2 Tories.

Many Labour and Green supporters sighed with relief when Maria was not shortlisted for the Brighton Pavilion seat as she would have attracted a strong personal vote.

Next May the Tories must be confident about retaining Maria’s seat and, given the unimpressive Labour councillors, they will not have given up hope of winning all three seats.

The Greens realistically have little chance. So, to keep the Tories out, I would encourage, with little enthusiasm, a tactical vote for Labour.