Some of my favourite things about politics in Brighton and Hove

The Greens: Thank goodness we live in a city that has the variety of politics and an openness to new ideas that allows a party like the Greens to thrive and enjoy electoral success. As a tribal Labour loyalist who voted Labour in May, I can’t imagine how very boring politics would be if we were still locked in a two-party dog fight, year in, year out. The Greens are forcing Labour and the Tories to rethink their strategy and policies, and (who knows when) both the old parties may just one day change for the better!

Warren Morgan: Warren will hate to be included in this list but he represents the fighting spirit that remains in parts of the local Labour Party. I can rely on Warren to spill his Sugar Puffs each time I post my latest take on the Greens. For him, it is the Evil Princess and All Her Works (i.e. Caroline Lucas) that personifies everything that is wrong with Brighton politics. Without the likes of Warren, Labour’s decline would be almost terminal.

The Young Tories: Rob Buckwell, Michael Ireland, Mike MacFarlane, George Dore, Kerry Underhill, Robert Nemeth and the incomparable Momma Grizzly, Rachael Bates. The Tory Party needs ‘modernising’ but not in the Blair/Cameron sense (which are no more than a cover for the worst traditions of paternalistic old-fashion politics). This new breed of young Tories will help the Tories break with their past and will challenge Blue Labour, sometimes from the left. Momma Grizzly is an enigma: a right wing, anti-monarchist, pro-Palin, capitalist. Other than her anti-monarchist tendencies, she represents much of what I oppose, but at least she has a sense of humour and passion, but that could make her all the more dangerous.

Community Gardeners: These groups represent the free spirit of campaigning that has long existed in Brightn and Hove. They are bottom up campaigners that genuinely ‘shape place’ to use the jargon of the City Council. Co-operative and communal, they bring forward a model of how things can improve, without consultants and council officers.

Christopher Hawtree: Chris is the latest in a long line of characters that have graced and enriched the political scene in Brighton and Hove over many years: Dennis Hobden, Ruth Larkin, Doreen Radford (the lady who it is said wore a new hat at every Council meeting), Richard Stanton, Sheila Hall, etc. Christopher’s election sent greater shockwaves around senior officers of the Council more than any other result on the night. It is said his election sent shockwaves around the Green Party as well!

The Blogosphere and Twiteratti: My life was sad, lacking in focus, days passing into weeks and weeks into years. I am the shy, retiring type. But then I discovered a whole new world and made loads of new friends: The Ghost, Zombie, Doris Day (she never returns my calls), Baron Pepperpot, Momma Grizzly, Rosa’s Lovely Daughter, Dr Faust, etc. Social media has enriched the political world locally, although no party has yet worked out how to make the most of it. When one party fully utilises Twitter, they can expect to reap electoral success.

The future: I don’t mean the young Tories (see above) or even the impressive young activists in Labour (Harris Fitch, Clare Calder, etc.) or in the Greens (Luke Walter, Allie Cannell, Alex Phillips, etc.) but those who active in their early and mid teens, such as Pearl Ahrens. With committed young activists like her, we can take courage for the future health of the political process.

Constructive criticism of Labour or uncritical support for the Greens?

Dr Faust says that my “uncritical approach to the Green Party, and willingness to accept any observation (often from Green Party candidates) about the shortcomings of Labour is quite tiresome”. I thought I would confuse the Good Doctor by sharing a little insight into my sad little world.

First, in the ward where I live, it makes sense (to me, anyway) to vote Labour. A vote for a Green candidate would make little difference.

Second, I am not altogether opposed to what Baron Pepperpot has said, that it would not be too bad if “the old guard” of Labour was removed (although in Jeane Lepper Labour has one of te most active and most effective ward councillors).

Third, I am, by inclination, Old Labour. I am not a Green and it is unlikely that I would ever join the Greens. I am more likely to rejoin Labour if I thought they had regained any semblance of competence and campaigning ability.

Fourth, Labour also has to learn from Caroline Lucas and move on from the 2010 defeat. At the moment the most attractive thing about Labour is Warren Morgan’s choice of breakfast cereal.

For too long Labour thought it had the right to be the party of government in Brighton and Hove. It became arrogant. Two election defeats in a row, and the likely hammering at the polls in May, should be cause for a fundamental review by Labour. As a former Labour Party member, nobody has ever bothered to ask me why I left and whether I might rejoin. (The reasons I left include T. Blair, New Labour, Iraq, privatisation, etc.). Blue Labour is hardly going to help rebuild the “broad church” that once defined Labour, and Labour activists’ obsession with the Evil Princess and All Her Works is so unappealing.

The Green Party has become the “broad church” in Brighton and Hove, providing a home for environmentalists and Socialists alike. But I am unlikely to join the Green Party as it is unlikely to define itself as a socialist party, but then, what chance is there of Labour doing so?

Labour activists seem to go on the attack every time I criticise their party, question their prospe ts, or point out the reality of their ongoing decline. This is half the problem. Labour still can’t tolerate dissent – a legacy of Kinnock and Blair. The Control Freaks remain in charge of the asylum. What Labour should do is allow dissent, welcome diverse opinions, and allow control to be devolved to branch level.

That is probably a big ask given that the branch structure in Brighton and Hove is largely moribund, but it is where Labour’s success in the 1980’s sprung from and this has to be rediscovered if Labour is to be revived in Brighton and Hove.

So Dr Faust, there you have it. Constructive criticism is what I offer. Uncritical approach to the Greens? Not really, it’s just that they are basically right about the strength of its campaign and the weakness of Labour’s. On May 5th we will see if I am right or whether I will be eating humble pie!

A good weekend for Labour, but what is it with Warren and the Sugar Puffs?

It’s been a good weekend for Labour, particularly in Hanover and Elm Grove and in Queens Park. Activists by the dozen descended on these wards in a major push for Labour. Baron Pepperpot writes: “Loads of Labour supporters out in Queens Park today, and if I’m not mistaken, I thought I saw Cllr Morgan at the monument that bares my name… No sugar puffs in hand though, although he does look like a big cuddly honey monster…… Queens Park is going red…”. Another Baron, this one Herkonnen, says of the numbers who turned out, “over 60 in fact, met at pepperpot and split between QP and H + EG”.

Yes, it was a good turnout, but will it make the difference? In Queens Park it might just, but I think that Labour is deceiving itself if it thinks it can unseat the Buddha (Bill Randall).

Labour would have been better advised to have directed it’s resources to seats at risk, such as Hollingdean and Stanmer. Labour remains deluded about its prospects, believing it can win in wards such as Brunswick and Adelaide.

Where Labour is heading for an absolutely thumping result is East Brighton. Warren Morgan, whose account of the campaign can largely be relied on, writes: “On Saturday in my ward alone we spoke to 100 people, 70 of them uncontacted since 2007 or earlier, or never contacted at all. 65 voters were Labour, and just three admitted to being Tory. We’ve been doorknocking every week for a year. You do the maths. And in terms of voter contact we are nowhere near the top of the Labour held/target wards.”

Actually, Waren’s last comment is one that I take issue with. Unlike East Brighton, few other wards have the Labour activists to carry out a complete canvass. Queens Park, thanks to Tom French’s singleminded determination, is an exception.

In Hove, Labour is running quiet yet effective campaignsin South Portslade and North Portslade, nothing exciting but enough to challenge for both seats in each ward. The Labour campaign in Hangleton and Knoll isn’t great, but the Brian Fitch Machine should see The Legend elected.

It is being suggested that Celia Barlow has disappeared from the fight in Central Hove, even that she isn’t registered to vote in the election. Can anyone shed light on this.

And finally, Harris Fitch, showing wisdom beyond his years, asks the question that needs answering. He asks: “What is this Sugar Puff thing?”. Yes, Warren, come clean, please tell all….

How Baron Pepperpot has fallen out of love with Labour, and now Valerie has fallen out of love with Donny Osmond

Baron Pepperpot’s hopes for a Labour wipeout in Hollingdean and Stanmer has attracted some response, forcing the Baron to explain himself: “I wouldn’t say there are divisions within Labour, but the party needs renewal if it is to survive locally-lest the Greens wipe it off the map. There you go, honesty about a real threat. The old order must go. Now to curtail speculation, I am not a sitting councillor or a candidate. Just a Labour member.”

Later he came back to say: “I must add that i have nothing against the sitting H&S councillors, I just feel that a heavy defeat in this ward would be a catalyst for change that Labour needs locally.”

The Ghost of Nobby Clarke takes up the story: “The Barons comments are interesting and I think his wish might just come true with 2 of the candidates being ousted, I also agree Labour is looking at national trends a little too much and not allowing for the Brighton Left Wing Trendy voters who like opting for supposed cuddly Greens (wolves and sheep’s clothing spring to mind), they’re also putting a tad too much effort in Queens Park where they will come unstuck once again, no mention of the collapse of the Green vote in the general election in Kemptown yet from Mr Morgan as another pointer to taking QP.”

As for predictions, Sugar Puff Eater, Warren Morgan, writes: “Well, 12 days to go and we will see who is right in Hollingdean & Stanmer, Regency, QP, Hanover & EG, PP, Brunswick and Goldsmid. Those wards will determine how many seats the Greens hold against the Labour challenge and win from the Lib Dems or Labour. I think at best they will have a net loss or gain of one.” A brave prediction, Warren, but one with red-tinted specs. I think it will be a net gain of eight. This is the core of the Green offensive and where most resources are being targeted.

Warren goes on: “Labour will certainly gains seats from the Tories in some or all the following wards: Hangleton, Wish, M&B, North Portslade and South Portslade.”

I have this picture – each morning Warren lines up his Sugar Puffs, grouping them into wards, candidates and likely victors, before gobbling them all up. How he loves his Sugar Puffs!

Marina72 helpfully provides an insight into Labour and the campaign in St Peters and North Laine: “I got a PDF of the Labour poster via email. Not quite the same, but nonetheless I’ve seen several in windows around 7 Dials/Prestonville (more than Greens, to my surprise.)”

And Momma Grizzly is annoyed with me for suggesting narrow campaign in Hollingdean and Stanmer: “The Conservative campaign in H&S is certainly not just focused on Coldean. We’re campaigning hard all over the ward, Baps! Tsk tsk.”. I apologise, Grizzly One, I know you’ve been to the Bates Estate (did you see me wave?) but I don’t think that Belushi’s Below is in the ward!

But on this slow day for electioneering, I bring you some news from two of our esteemed Returning Officers. Brighton and Hove City Council Chief Executive, John Barradell, has been identified as the 17th most influential person in local government. The citation reads: “John Barradell is one of a growing band of chiefs who are using technology to drive the redesign of services. For example, he held a ‘city camp’ at which citizens could design smartphone applications to measure local congestion or air quality, or show how to access services.”

John, however, is 941st most influential Tweeter in Brighton and Hove, according to updood.com’s 1,000 top twitter users in Brighton and Hove. He is just one place above Eternal Tattoo, but well ahead of Tom French who is at 964. Sadly this Blogger fails to make the top 1,000, leaving him …. or her …. feeling neglected and unloved.

And on the subject of love …. Valerie Pearce at Brighton and Hove City Council says she is not in love with Donny Osmond …. “any more”. When did this end, and does Donny know? Clearly upset, all Valerie is eating is comfort food: chocolate and sausages. Updates on this developing situation as we receive it!

Labour talking a good fight and paying respect to Pat Hawkes

The Honey Monster (Craig Turton) has reacted to my comment that “So disorganised are they (Labour) in some seats that members have complained about not being given posters for their windows”. Craig says that could be because “like in East Brighton ward – where doorstep enthusiasm for Labour far exceeeds 2003 and 2007 – demand for posters is outsripping supply. Same in Hangleton and elsewhere.” Nice try, Craig, but the empty windows suggests otherwise. There is still no enthusiasm for Labour. Brighton and Hove is not like the rest of the country – the Caroline Effects will still make a difference.

As for enthusiasm for Labour in the future, Blue Labour isn’t going to play at all well in Brighton and Hove. I wanted Red Ed Milliband to win. What on earth is he doing? He is proving to be a disaster, while Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper are, at least, putting some clear water between Labour and the Tories.

Steampunk suggests that Labour has given up on Central Hove: “A Labour party member told me ruefully last weekend, ‘no matter what you do, the Tories will always win in Central Hove’. So I suspect that having come fourth last time round, this year they have been focussing on the more winnable wards further out such as Wish, Hangleton and the two in Portslade. Or perhaps everyone has gone to Queens Park?”.

Blue Lady Linda says that “There is a hive of activity going on in most of the wards from our activists: telephone canvassing, envelope stuffing, literature deliveries, knocking up and general cross ward support. There is much that goes on ‘under the radar’”. Lady Linda is right that traditionally the work of the Tories is not that obvious but they have been able to get out its vote.

She says that she thinks that all parties other than the Tories have given up on Hove Park. “I come to this conclusion, because I have yet to see any literature or sighting of a candidate, other than Tory, in Hove Park Ward.”

MJ must be a Labour hack because who else would come out with the following tosh: “Word is that the Greens are under pressure in Regency and are stalling in Queens Park and Brunswick. They may also drop one seat in Hanover, Preston Park and Goldsmith. The Labour vote is too high to see Green or Tory gains.” There’s no such ‘word’, there is no such pressure, they are not stalling, and the Greens are not going to drop seats. Luke Walter’s reaction is right when he simply responded “LOL”.

The love within Labour is overwhelming. Baron Pepperpot writes: “As a paid up member of the Labour Party who fully supports our Queens Park campaign, I would like to say how happy I would be to see us get completely stuffed in Hollingdean and Stanmer…”. Wow! I’m intrigued as to why you feel this strongly. Do say more. And if this is the mood with Labour ten days out from an election, what levels of fratricide can we expect if my predictions are correct and Labour is left with a smaller rump than they currently have?

Christina Summers, one of the Green candidates has responded to my praise of Luke Walter and his campaigning zeal: “Don’t worry BPB, Luke is most definitely not a lone Green campaigner in Hollingdean & Stanmer…and our opponents are most definitely not complimentary nor do they resemble any sort of firework…apart from the occasional banger…usually when we’ve leafleted their homes.”

As regular readers will know, I have been predicting two Greens and one Labour (Jeane Lepper) being returned in Hollingdean and Stanmer. This would see the end of the long and illustrious council career of Pat Hawkes who has represented the area for many decades. She has also been an active trade unionist, rising to be President of the NUT. Consistency in service (although not always in views) means that she deserves respect, and she certainly has mine.

Naming names and ‘outing’ people

I’m sitting in Pavilion Gardens reflecting on a comment left on this blog yesterday. Tom Matthews wrote of ‘greenpartymember’: “If you’re going to pretend to be a Green Party member, don’t make your username ‘greenpartymember’”.

This has forced me to think about the number of people who engage with this blog but who hide behind made up names, such as Baron Pepperpot, Steampunk, Hove Lawn, Dr Faust, The Ghost of Nobby Clarke, the Tory Tipster, and Christopher Hawtree.

Others have been masquerading with names such as The Estate Agent, Momma Grizzly, le Toothbrush, Bishop Brian, and The Buddha. Rumour has it that these people are, in reality, Rob Buckwell, Rachael Bates, Mike Macfarlane, Brian Oxley and Bill Randall.

What is it about these people who make comments but not in their own names? I think it is nothing short of a disgrace!

The student vote will swing Hollingdean and Stanmer for the Greens and consolidate their position elsewhere

It seems that the consensus is that the student vote will make a difference primarily in Hollingdean and Stanmer, and has already made a difference in St Peters and North Laine, and in Hanover and Elm Grove, with Regency also benefiting from the student vote.  All this is possibly stating the obvious as these seats have high concentration of students, and all are in Brighton Pavilion where the Green’s organisation has galvanised the student vote.  In Moulscoomb and Bevendean, where Labour and the Greens have little organisation on the ground, the student vote is less influential, allowing the Tories to take seats in this tradional Labour seat.

DAP thinks that students will make the LibDem destruction even more felt everywhere, coming in poor lasts.  He thinks that the “Tories will also be hit (in M&B for example) not because Tory students will change their mind and vote left, but beacuse previously non voting students/first timers will be more inclined to vote Green/Labour because of recent tuition fee rises/high youth umemployment/low graduate employment (as will the parents of future students)”.  Perhaps, but I think that Moulsecoomb and Bevendean will be won, not by issues impacting on students, but on the record of Maria Caulfield as lead councillor for housing. 

My dear Baron Pepperpot agrees with my take on Hollingbury and Stanmer: “The Greens in Hollingdean & Stanmer are heavily targeting the student vote. I understand they are readily campaigning at the campus, and will be there on the day. The Greens campaign in this ward has been in full flow for sometime, and is showing signs of a very carefully thought out strategy. An added advantage too is student hostility towards the coalition and the Lib Dems in particular.If someone wanted to bet me that 3 Greens will be returned from Hollingdean & Stanmer, they wouldn’t see much of a return on their stake!”

As you know, Baron, I think the Joker in the Pack is Jeane Lepper who I believe will hang on because of her many years careful stewardship of the ward. I still say two Greens and Jeane Lepper for Labour.

Brighton’s own Mr Pickwick, Christopher Hawtree, thinks that the student vote will be influential everywher: “It is not only the student vote that makes Moulescoomb an interesting area for the Greens. Look at the rest of it.” I don’t think so, it requires strong organisation on the ground, and Labour doesn’t have it, and the Greens are targeting their efforts in selected wards.

The activist with probably the best knowledge of the student vote, and someone who has received little public credit for the success of Caroline Lucas’ campaign is Allie Cannell.  He writes: “I think the best reference I have ever got was from Charlotte Vere after the general election when she said in an e-mail to the University of Sussex Conservative Assosiation something along the lines of: ‘We could have won it if the Labour vote had softened but in the end the Greens’ student mobilisation campaign was just too successful’.  I learnt a lot coordinating the campus campaign at the general election last year and it was really really successful (if only i could tell you what the sampling data said), this year we started campaigning earlier on campus and we know how to do it. I’m confident we will get a good Green vote from the students again.”  I am sure you are right.

Regarding the student vote at Brighton University, and those in Kemptown, Allie writes: “We have made some connections with Brighton students, but as you say there hasn’t been a strong campaign there as we have to target. It will be interesting to see how those students vote this time though.  There are a lot of students that live in SPNL, and H&EG too, what a supprise that they’re Green wards.”

The Ghost of Nobby Clarke tends to discount the influence of the student vote: “The Students have always been a questionable influence in the old Stanmer ward and the now H&S ward, will they place Sven “Long Hair Kung-Fu Man” Rufus back on the council,do they know how too tactical vote? or do they let Rachel “momma grizzly” Bates through the middle, she is after all an ex Sussex Uni student and that may count for something with her old campus pals, we could see Ian Fyvie out with his loud hailer!”  Now having Ian Fyvie on the Council would be something, but somehow I think he will just miss out, by a thousand votes or so!

HP thinks it is studentification’ that could be a factor.  Not on students, I think, but on those living in town centre wards who complain about car parking and noisy neighbours, blaiming it all on students. HP writes: “Of course, another way the students might swing the vote is in relation to the party that promises the most effective action to limit the spread of student houses at the cost of family housing. The outgoing Labour Govt was in the process of addressing just that issue, but then the Tories came in and buckled to the demands of their landlord mates and watered down the new rules. However, a locally implementable mechanism exists to stop family houses becoming student lets and I for one would be happy to vote for a party that has the courage to impose it (unless that party is the Tories, obviously I’d never vote for them). We then need more purpose built student accommodation in the right places with sustainable links to the campuses.”

But is any of this speculation meaningful? Dan Wilson thinks not: “Student turnout at local elections is typically very low indeed”  but Mr Pickwick senses something different now: “It seems to me a motivated student vote this time. Many were inspired by first Green MP. That was also apparent in the Lizzie Deane camapign. And that was a summertime when most political types assumed that it would be a snoozy electorate.”

Simple arguments for the Tories and the Greens, an impossible argument for Labour to make in Brighton and Hove

The Noble Lord, Baron Pepperpot, has disagreed with my analysis of the political implications of Thursday’s Budget votes at Brighton and Hove City Council. He writes: “I find it very difficult to believe-despite today’s Argus headline, that any Conservative-apart from those in those leafy outwith suburbs, will be laughing to the polls. Sometimes we over estimate the average persons interest in the intricate nature of these issues. Most people, however, will have heard about the proposed 1% reduction in council tax, most people will know about the cuts. It is my conclusion, from those I have spoken to, that people see the 1% reduction as a gimmick and that people know cuts are coming and are, whether rightly or wrongly, resigned to them. From this conclusion (and some people on here will agree, some not) I see that no damage has been done long term to either Labour or the Greens. Both can sell an alternative argument. And most people don’t have the time or inclination to draw an in depth conclusion.”

I don’t agree, Baron. The Tories will emphasise the fact that Labour and the Greens voted against the cut in Council Tax. Theirs is an easy (if sloppy) argument, one that ill-informed voters miught buy. Imagine the line on the doorstep/on leaflets: “We put forward a cut in Council tax but Labour and the Greens voted against saving you money.”  No mention of amounts, a simple, accurate message.

There is damage for Labour.  The Greens message will be: “We could have voted down the Tory cuts budget, but Labour abstained and allowed the cuts to go ahead”. Again, a simple, accurate message.

As for Labour, what will its message be? At best “While we don’t like the cuts, we had to abstain to allow a budget to be set to avoid chaos”.  Huh? A confusing, not so accurate message.  Floating voters like me won’t be convinced.  (Before I am accused by Labour activists of being pro Green, I intend to split my votes in May. Whether it is 2 Green and 1 Labour or 1 Green and 2 Labour is yet to be decided, but Labour’s abstention encorages me towards the former).

Warren Morgan makes a brave attempt to explain Labour’s position: “We co-operated on some amendments, we made a difference in what was passed. There was a disagreement over whether to vote out the amended Tory budget or let it go through with the changes we had agreed.  The Greens had other amendments that they put in which they will use on election leaflets to differentiate themselves from Labour, and chose to make a stand and vote against the Budget. Again they are using that position to differentiate themselves from Labour. We could have done the same, and would have had to do the whole thing again next week. That may or may not have enabled further changes, or it may have lost the changes already won. We could not, lawfully, have continued to vote it down and deny the reality of Tory govt imposed cuts.”

That’s a complicated argument, less still a convincing argument that will be difficult to make in response to the simple message that the Greens will be making.

Allie Cannell thinks my views about the future prospects of Labour-Green co-operation is too pessimistic: “Labour and the Greens are always going to disagree about things, thats why they are seperate parties! You can’t expect them to get along all the time, what is encouraging though is that they found so much stuff that they did agree on so that they could significantly change the Tory budget so it wasn’t quite as bad. There is some overlap and I think the collaboration in this budget shows that mostly both parties can work with that overlap and that politisicing hopefully wont get in the way.”  I hope you are right, Allie, but the tone of exchanges of late (well, since Thursday night) suggests some activists are less likely to stab others in the back, it is an all-out, full-frontal assault!

Christopher Hawtree says that the Budget is largely a non-issue: “I spoke with a lot of people yesterday, and did not hear the Budget mentioned.”  I doubt that the Tories or the Greens will allow that situation to last long.