An alternative view to the Brighton and Hove Independent 100

The Brighton and Hove Independent last week (30th May) published a list of the “100 people who make our city what it is”. The Editorial Director, Greg Hadfield has said he “expects – and even hopes – that almost everyone will disagree” with the list.

Let me be the first. There are the predictable names but it is who Greg has missed that demands comment. For example, why is your Humble Blogger not included? No politician can hope for recognition and success without endorsement from this awesome blog.

It is all very well to have Martin Harris from the bus company, but what about former Mayor, Brian Fitch, who singlehandedly, in a career stretching back to when Methuselah was a boy in short trousers, has saved bus route after bus route, most recently the Number 5, from being callously axed without a second thought to those isolated on our estates. What hope is there for them now that Brian has moved to Eastbourne?

More seriously, in the media section, there is no mention of anyone from the Brighton Argus. I just can’t imagine why not! Adam Trimingham, at least, should be there.

Three politicians from each of the main political parties are listed although the Green, Major Druitt, is listed because of his business influence, and Katy Bourne appears to have transcended her party political affiliations to be listed under Public Services.

But how does one make a judgement on who has made a contribution to make our city what it is. When reviewing the list, I was hard pressed to say for over half of them one thing they have done to make or change the City. Merely holding a position, elected or otherwise, doesn’t mean that you have helped to shape a place.

A better list would be who, over the last 25 years or more, has helped to make Brighton and Hove what it is today. Who is the modern day Herbert Carden, Margaret Hardy, Lewis Cohen, Dorothy Stringer, John Morley, Denis Hobden, Tony Hewison, Asa Briggs, or Richard Attenborough? Their influence on the City remains even though they are no longer with us.

I could mention people like Linda Pointing, Dani Ahrens and Melita Dennett, who (amongst others) were pioneers in the movement for lesbian and gay rights and recognition, and opposition to Section 28. Or Shirley West who was, for many years, the backbone of the Women’s Centre. Jess Wood from Allsorts continues this work, particularly with children and young people.

For fifty years Patricia Norman was central to the Friends Centre and to its adult education arm. Into her nineties she continued with a group for pensioners run from the Friends Centre, as well as being involved in the work of Brighton Housing Trust for over 45 years, most recently as its Life President.

Kate Page has been at the Resources Centre for almost 35 years, helping countless community organisations shape their communities. And Faith Matyszak provided the backbone of BME services throughout the 1980’s, 90’s and noughties.

Local domestic violence services were saved by a group including the above-mentioned Shirley West and Jean Calder, who subsequently became the first Director of the Women’s Refuge Project (now Rise). Jean later led the successful campaign to save St Peters Church as a place of worship, alongside Janet King, Isabel Turner and others. (Jean now has the honour to be a regular contributor to this esteemed blog.)

Interfaith activities were championed by Tehm Framroze, and now by Anthea Ballam. They should be on the list. Andrew Manson-Brailsford and Ian Chisnall continue to make the Church relevant in the community. Rabbi Elli Sarah does likewise for Progressive Jewish community.

While he will no doubt write a strongly worded letter against his inclusion, Tony Greenstein should be included for being a public irritant of gargantuan proportions but, more so, for being one of the most consistent anti-fascist in Brighton and Hove.

What about the campaigners who helped to close down the Dolphinarium? Or Duncan Blinkhorn and Mark Strong for getting the needs of cyclists acknowledged.

Mushtaq Ahmed was pivotal in establishing Sussex CCC as a force to be reckoned with. Dick Knight could represent all those who helped secure a stadium fit for the 21st century at Falmer.

Michael Chowen, a local businessman and employer, has been a philanthropist with a particular commitment to women’s services. Peter Field has had a long history in charitable work, not least in nurturing and developing housing services for homeless people.

I could go on and on, and I usually do, but those named above would be 25 of my 100.

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The division within the Greens over Christina Summers’ expulsion

The Argus’s Tim Ridgway is fast establishing himself as an outstanding local government correspondent, and the Argus is the better paper for his reporting.

Not that the Greens will be thinking so this morning as Tim reveals the list of those Green councillors who signed the letter resulting in Christina Summers being expelled from the Green Group on Brighton and Hove City Council.

According to Tim, those who signed the letter were: Liz Wakefield, Rob Jarrett, Leo Littman, Phelim MacCafferty, Lizzie Deane, Sue Shanks, Christopher Hawtree, Ben Duncan, Sven Rufus, Mike Jones, Stephanie Powell, Amy Kennedy, and Ruth Buckley.

Those who did not sign were: Matt Follett, Bill Randall, Geoffrey Bowden, Ian Davey, Ollie Sykes, Alex Phillips, Pete West, Jason Kitcat, and Ania Kitcat.

I am personally disappointed with some who signed and pleasantly surprised by one or two who did not.

When histories are written of political administrations, the moment that an under-fire group turns on its own members is the moment that defeat becomes likely. The Greens still have time to reflect on what got them elected in 2011 and return to the campaigning political operation that so inspired many voters.

(Note: the original posting had Tim Ridgway as a “loyal government correspondent” now corrected to “local government correspondent” and the names of Geoffrey Bowden and Bill Randall had become fused as Geoffrey Randall. What a thought!)

How the Greens respond to Christina Summers will will show how mature and measured it is as a party

The Green Party does not have a whip on Brighton and Hove City Council, and while it seeks to achieve a consensus on issues coming before the Council, members of the Green Group are permitted to vote according to their conscience.

The decision of Hollingdean and Stanmer councillor, Christina Summers, to vote against same sex marriages at Thursday’s Full Council meeting on a notice of motion put forward by Labour councillor Warren Morgan. Councillor Summers told the Argus that it was a conscious decision and not made “off the cuff.” she said: “I could have abstained but I needed to qualify that I could not. The problem here is the understanding of equality. I do not agree that disagreeing with same sex marriage is disagreeing with equality at all. I feel that marriage is about a relationship between a man and a woman together in a relationship and about procreation and family.”

Now some Green Party members have begun discussions about whether councillor Summers should be expelled from the Green Party.

I fundamentally disagree with the position that councillor Summers takes on the issue. At the same time I think that should any action be taken against her would be wrong, even discriminatory on the grounds of religion and gender.

When selected to stand in Hollingdean and Stanmer, Christina Summers made no secret of her religious affiliations. At the time she was a member of the Calvary Church in Viaduct Road, a church with a social conscience but with clear views regarding homosexuality, abortion and the headship of men (views which I find repugnant). While I don’t know whether and how much councillor Summers subscribes to these views, it should come as no surprise to anyone if she did. In a political party like the Greens, it is rather perverse to now say she now cannot obey her conscience.   To take action against her now would alienate the Greens from many Christians.

Regarding sexual discrimination, no action was taken against councillor Ben Duncan when he made a ‘joke’ about only smoking weed when he was raping and pillaging, or something similarly distasteful. Ben Duncan has a leading role on policing. I doubt it was well known at the time of his selection that he felt it was acceptable to make ‘jokes’ about rape. He has subsequently apologised for the wide offence he caused.

So no action was taken against a male councillor for a grossly sexist action that was not based, I am happy to accept, on conscience, but consideration is being given to taking action against a female councillor for an action based on her conscience. That would smack of gender discrimination and might suggest that there are elements of misogyny within the Green Group. I don’t believe that this is the case.

The Deputy Leader of the Council and the Green’s spokesperson on LGBT issues, Phelim MacCafferty, told the Argus that the Greens “believe she is entitled to hold her view but this does not reflect the position, spirit and track record of the green Party in extending human and civil rights for all social groups irrespective of sexual orientation or on other grounds.”

Well said, Phelim. That is a mature and measured response. It is a shame he went on to say: “Green councillors will be meeting to discuss this issue soon.”

Can I suggest that when this item is reached, someone proposes, in a mature and measured way, “Next business”. If the Greens really think that spending time debating the views and voting of just one of its members on this issue deserves time and attention, then the Group will become a laughing stock. It will take more than Christina Summers voting as she did to cause the slightest damage to the Green Party’s excellent record on LGBT issues.

 

Westbourne by-election, and the record of the Dear Leader

“I was sad to hear that Councillor Bill Randall has stepped down as Leader of Brighton and Hove City Council. I have never heard a bad word about him and I wish him well as Mayor.”

This is clearly the season of good will for these are not my words but those of the Deputy Chair (Political) of Brighton and Hove Conservatives, Robert Nemeth writing in today’s Brighton Argus.

But the Christmas spirit quickly evaporates and bad words are implied, if not said, against the Dear Leader (Randall, not Kim Jong-il). The “Greens did not hit the ground running”, decisions were taken “on the move rather than making the changes that were promised”, and that the situation has “no doubt been exacerbated by the internal squabbles”. He points to “chaos” on the issues of council tax, Falmer Stadium, and the Victoria Gardens campsite.

If that is not saying bad words against the Dear Leader, then I don’t know what is. And also, am right in thinking that history is being re-written? The Dear Leader hasn’t stood down after 6 months. He will remain the Dear Leader until the annual Council at which point he will become the Dear Mayor.

As for the Greens not hitting the ground running, my perception is that they did just that, and the approach to the budget has been quite extraordinary. By taking an open, inclusive approach to its preparation, and the invitation to Labour and Tory councillors, the opposition have been wrong footed, hence the all-out attack on the Greens by Labour’s Lord Bassam, Caroline Penn and Warren Morgan, and now Robert himself.

To suggest that there has been “chaos” is nonsense. These issues are the normal challenges that face a new (and yes, inexperienced) administration.

I don’t detect “internal squabbles”. There is debate and there are differences, but this has largely involved organisation and, to a lesser extent personalities. But such differences pale into insignificance when compared to the split between the the Hove and Pavilion Conservatives and the Kemptown Tories.

But enough of the Dear Leader, and enough of Mr Nemeth. All thoughts have turned to Christmas. Oh no they haven’t. Oh yes they have. OH NO THEY HAVEN’T!!! All thoughts are focused on Westbourne and tomorrow’s by-election.

I hear that both the Tories and Greens are pleased with their postal vote campaigns,I and that Labour and the Greens are pleased with their poster campaign. On postal votes, the Greens usually think they don’t do too well here, but they are quietly pleased with what they have achieved in Westbourne, and confidence levels are rising. But I hear from deep within the Labour camp that they are pleased with the number of promises they have secured for Nigel Jenner. The question is, how firm are these promises?

My prediction? I correctly ‘called’ the Goldsmid by-election, the Brighton Pavilion result (although I thought Chuck Vere would come second), and the number of seats the Greens would win in May (I said 22 or 23 – I didn’t see Chris Hawtree winning although he did). But this by-election is the most difficult ‘call’ because of the, likely, very low turnout. If this by-election was to take place in, say, May, I would think the Greens would win. They have the Big Mo, a candidate who lives in the ward, and in Luke Walter, the best election organiser in the City.

But the Joker in the Pack is the Tory candidate, Graham Cox. He is the equal to the Green’s Louisa Greenbaum, he is a first rate candidate. Without the other, either of these candidates would swing the result in an election as close as this.

If pushed, I would call it for Louisa Greenbaum, but it will be one of the closest results in years. I think that given the low turnout it could still go any one of three ways.

Best wishes to ALL candidates tomorrow. My respect for candidates remains, and I thank all seven of you for making democracy a reality.

(The original version of this post referred to Caroline Pegg. Her name has been corrected to Caroline Penn).

In defence of Dawn Barnett (and even of Tony Janio)

Once again, a democratically elected councillor might be prevented from representing her constituents because councillor Dawn Barnett is being taken before the ‘Standards’ Committee following an anonymous complaint, allegedly from a fellow councillor.

In early summer, shortly after the election of the first-ever Green Administration, councillor Barnett handed out letters to travellers encamped in her ward (Hangleton and Knoll) giving them directions to open spaces in Green-held wards.

I thought it was an imaginative and hilarious protest by councillor Barnett. So much of local politics is taken too seriously. While much of what local government does is serious stuff, occasionally a light hearted and irreverent intervention is to be welcomed. Councillor Barnett’s made one such intervention.

I like, for example, the style of councillor Tony Janio who has strongly held views that can be summarised as small local government, big third and private sectors. He takes a special delight in winding up Green councillors as witnessed by the wearing of a Stars and Stripes tie at Full Council meetings.

Now it may come as a surprise to my three regular readers (Grizzly, Doris and Biker Dave) that I might not entirely support each and every political view articulated by the Hangleton Twins (Barnett and Janio). But I like their style.

But back to the attempt to discipline councillor Barnett. I am shocked that the hearing by the ‘Standards’ Committee might be held behind closed doors. Papers relating to the hearing have not been published because the council believes that “the public interest in maintaining the exemption outways the public interest in disclosing the information”. According to Tim Ridgway at the Argus, “It is believed the decision was made by council lawyers as they wanted to ‘downplay’ the publicity surrounding the hearing”.

This is not a matter of process, it is a political show trial. On the panel will be Tory councillor, Ann Norman, Green councillor Leo Littman, and Labour councillor Jeane Lepper. Two ‘independent’ members of the panel (which is scheduled to meet at 10am on Tuesday morning) are Peter Rose and Dr. Michael Wilkinson.

If council officials thinks that by “downplaying” the panel hearing that there will be less publicity, they are completely wrong. Try keeping something confidential, you can be assured it will leak.

And if Labour and Green councillors take a stance against Dawn Barnett because they disagree with her views regarding travellers, the issue will come back to bite them on the butt. For mark my words, if Dawn Barnett is suspended from office for even a micro-second, if she is censured for her actions, she will become a bigger legend in Hangleton and Knoll than she is already. Any chance of Labour regaining that ward will be lost; any thoughts that the Greens might have of gaining a foothold in that ward will be lost.

I opposed the Standards Committee action against Jason Kitcat, against Averil Older, and will do so against anyone else brought before this panel. The only group entitled to replace a democratically elected representative should be the voters who put them there in the first place.

I support the right to recall as strongly as I oppose the Standards Committee. I call on the person who made the complaint against councillor Barnett to withdraw it, and I call on councillors Norman, Littman and Lepper to refuse to hear this matter.

Who are the 100 most influential Brightonians?

Open data guru and all-round geek good guy, Greg Hadfield, has come up with the idea of compiling a list of the top 100 most influential people in Brighton. The idea is based on a similar list of the top 1,000 most influential people in London.

Immediately someone suggested that Greg himself should be on the list. “In my dreams; in my nightmares :-)” was his almost immediate response. Putting modesty aside, Greg is increasingly influential, not least for the drive he gives to the open data initiative and most things digital. He should be on the list.

But such a list needs some qualification. Is it a list of those who are currently the most influential? If that is the case (false modesty put aside) your humble blogger will not doubt be in the top 3. If it is the most influential in the last 25 years, then (being serious for once) Steve Bassam and David Lepper would be up there as they dominated local politics and helped shape the City we live in.

Dick Knight, former Chairman and now Life President of the Albion, was instrumental in saving the local football team and creating the reality that is the Amex Community Stadium. Mushtaq Ahmed, no longer a Brightonian, helped the local cricket team win the Championship and other honours.

So far all men. Here are a few great women. Selma Montford has been the conscience of the City’s architectural heritage. Mary Mears brought about a new style of leadership to the Council, and ranks amongst the most influential politicians in local politics. Caroline Lucas has changed the face of Brighton politics, and has provided inspiration nationwide to a new style of parliamentarian. Jean Calder helped slow the slide in the Argus with her original and challenging column. The Sage of Sussex (not a woman) Adam Trimingham, has for more than 100 years graced the pages of the Argus.

Please post your suggestions here or tweet the using the hashtag #btn100

It is time to stop, once and for all, the nonsense of local council’s ‘Standards Committees’

I have written before about the Standards system in local government, how undemocratic it is that a panel made up of opposition councillors and non-elected individuals can sit in judgement on elected councillors, even depriving the electorate of one of their representatives.

This is not a party political issue, and I have rallied to the defence of both Green councillor Jason Kitcat and the Matriarch of Hangleton and Knoll, Dawn Barnett.  Not just that, but future Tory Leader, Grant Shapps, tweeted in support of Jason!  Jason was accused of posting selected extracts of video from council meetings featuring Tory councillor Geoffrey Theobald.  It must be stated that the People’s Geoffrey did not support the actions taken by one of his fellow Conservatives.

The Matriarch, it has been reported, was referred to the Standards Committee for handing out leaflets directing travellers camped in her ward to open spaces in wards held by Green councillors.  While I do not like the tone of much of the anti-traveller debate, I thought that what the Matriarch did was imaginative touched with humour.  She made her point very well.  It was rumoured that it was a Green councillor who made that referral but I am yet to see any firm evidence to confirm this. I have previously written about Dawn’s “sheer cheek”.

Jason’s case was thrown out while Dawn’s has gone quiet (although I may have missed developments during my two month sabbatical in Italy over the summer.

The latest fiasco relates to Ben Duncan, the Green councillor for Queens Park, cabinet member for public protection and representative of Brighton and Hove City Council on the Sussex Police Authority.  An anonymous complaint was made against him about posts on his blog and for attending various demonstrations.  The investigation took over a year and found that he had done nothing wrong.  I have previously posted on Ben Duncan’s case.

Quoted in the Argus he said it was wrong for standards procedures to be used to complain about people’s opinions.  “It is an abuse of the system and a waste of public money. This must have cost thousands of pounds. The standards board should be used to tackle allegations of real wrongdoing. It is not just that there is nothing wrong with expressing an opinion on policing, you could say if you’re not doing that you’re not doing the job properly.”

The implication of this case, more so that the cases of Jason and The Matriarch, would have been more sinister had it been found that Ben had been in the wrong. It would mean that a councillor could not be involved in certain activities, in this case, anti-way activities.  It would have meant that only those with more conventional views would be allowed to serve on the Police Authority.  What would be the point of that? 

I recall a Conservative councillor once saying to me that he wished that Labour wouldn’t be so political on the Council, that the Conservatives were apolitical in local government!  I got it, you are only political if you disagreed with the status quo.  Thank goodness for The Boy David, his mate Boy George and Little Nick, standing up for the status quo, and doing it, if I may say so, very well indeed.