Are headlines about the Old Steine protest camp what the Greens need right now?

An unholy row is brewing in Brighton regarding protests in the City. Green councillor Ben Duncan, Cabinet Member for Commnities, has said that peaceful protests are welcome in the Ity. Of the Spanish protest camp that has been set up in the Old Steine, he has described it as “the model of the kind of engaged peaceful protest the Council and the Police are committed to facilitating.” Former council leader Mary Mears has said that she is ”astonished” by the statement and that she fears that Ben Duncan’s comments would encourage more protesters.

Now Simon Kirby, the Conservative member of paliament for Brighton Kemptown has said that the Green administration should not to use the city as a “laboratory for Green experiments.”

Mr Kirby has written a letter to Brighton and Hove City Council chief executive John Barradell in which he has said: “Whilst it is right that local authorities undertake their duties so that they comply with the law, I am very concerned at the impression being given to residents and visitors alike. I believe that business confidence will be eroded, in my opinion the rule of law is being challenged and unnecessary tensions are being created in the city. The Green Administration rests on minority support. It should recognise that. I am very concerned at the turn of events in the last few weeks and there needs to be a rapid change of direction. Brighton is a city where people want to go about their business in peace, not be part of a laboratory for Green experiments.”

My views are as follows:

Protests are part of our political life. The police have been unnecessarily heavy handed in dealing with, for example, the recent anti-EDL protests. By their tactics a generation of activists are being politicised (which is a good thng) but will have developed an anti-police attitude (which is a shame).

The statement by Ben Duncan was ill-judged. So early into the life of the new administration, the Green Admnistration has attracted unwelcome headlines. Being in opposition and being a campaigner is one thing, being a Cabinet member another. I am not suggesting that Ben compromises his views and policies, but having gained elected office, use your new position to influence, persuade and enforce your policies. Start by talking to the police about their tactics on demonstrations, agree a code of acceptable behaviour in the policing of demonstrations, insist that kettling plays no part in police tactics. You are the local government. Use the priviledged position you are in.

Finally, careful what you wish for. The camp in the Old Steine should have been given to remain for a nit or two. Now the Council will find it difficult to move. And what if similar camps begin appearing throughout the summer in the squares and parks throughout Brighton and Hove. I believe in protests and extra-parliamentary action, but there is a danger that such camps might proliferate masquerading as ‘protest camps’.

The Green Council has my blessing (I sound like Bishop Brian) but it needs some discipline within it’s ranks before something more significant causes the Group to implode.

Reasons to be Cheerful … for 39 candidates in Thursday’s elections

‘Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3’ by Ian Dury and the Blockheads was released in July 1979, shortly after Margaret Thatcher had been elected Prime Minister. Cut, cut, and more cuts was the order of the day. On that occasions the Tories were able to make cuts to their hearts content. They didn’t have to rely on those disgraceful, turncoats, the Lib Dems, to help them. (I have gone for more than a week without a cheap comment about the Lib Dems – is this a record?).

But there are a number of people, 39 to be precise, who have reasons to be cheerful – those who I am confident will be elected (whatever the weather and their positions on the ballot papers). Some campaigns are too close to call, and in some wards I am only predicting one or two winners. The figures in brackets are the number of seatsup for election.

Brunswick & Adelaide (2) – too close to call

Central Hove (2) – too close to call

East Brighton (3) – a Labour 1, 2, 3: Gill Mitchell, Warren Morgan, Craig Turton

Goldsmid (3) – Melanie Davis, Alex Phillips (Labour, Green)

Hangleton & Knoll (3) – Dawn Barnett, Brian Fitch (Tory, Labour)

Hanover & Elm Grove (3) – a Green 1, 2, 3: Matt Follett, Bill Randall, Liz Wakefield

Hollingdean & Stanmer (3) – Jeane Lepper, Sven Rufus, Christina Summers (Labour, Green, Green)

Hove Park (2) – a Tory 1, 2: Jayne Bennett, Vanessa Brown

Moulsecoomb & Bevendean (3) – Maria Caulfield, Ayas Fallon-Khan (Tory, Tory)

North Portslade (2) – Bob Carden (Labour)

Patcham (3) – a Tory 1, 2, 3: Brian Pidgeon, Carol Theobald, Geoffrey Theobald

Preston Park (3) – Amy Kennedy (Green)

Queen’s Park (3) – Ben Duncan (Green)

Regency (2) – a Green 1, 2: Ania Kitcat, Jason Kitcat

Rottingdean Coastal (3) – a Tory 1, 2, 3: Lynda Hyde, Mary Mears, David Smith

South Portslade (2) – Les Hamilton (Labour)

St Peter’s & North Laine (3) – a Green 1, 2, 3: Ian Davey, Lizzie Deane, Pete West

Westbourne (2) – a Tory 1, 2: Denise Cobb, Brian Oxley

Wish (2) – too close to call

Withdean (3) – a Tory 1, 2, 3: Robert Nemeth, Ann Norman, Ken Norman,

Woodingdean (2) – a Tory 1, 2: Dee Simpson, Geoff Wells

In summary, the above predictions will see elected 8 Labour councillors, 13 Green, and 18 Tories. That leaves 15 seats that are too close to call. Privately, just between me and you, my four regular readers, I predict 8 of these will go Green, 3 to the Tories, and 4 Labour. A hung council made up of 21 Greens, 21 Tories, and 12 Labour councillors. A nightmare scenario for many ….!

A campaign more interesting and more important that the local elections

Forget the local elections. There is another campaign that is far more interesting and far more important, mentioned on my post yesterday. Who is the top political Tweeter in Brighton and Hove. And it is not the Sugar Puff scoffing Warren Morgan.

According to updood.com, based on the number of followers, Labour’s Tom French is at number 964 of the top 1,000 Tweeters in Brighton and Hove. His Green opponent in Queens Park, Ben Duncan, is well ahead of him at number 472 with Warren Morgan, nudging ahead for Labour, at number 470. But above them (and I apologise for missing anyone out – I did crawl out of my dark basement for a couple of hours today) is Celia Barlow at number 383, and Green Vicky Wakefield-Jarrett at 353.

The highest ranking Labour politician is Dan Wilson at number 315. Momma Grizzly should be there at about number 250, but she has not set her location as Brighton.

But the leading politician is (and no doubt I will be accused of Green bias) is Caroline Lucas at number 9. But the top Twit in Brighton and Hove is the adorable Peter Andre!

I still don’t appear in the top 1,000, a source of considerable angst and a cause for self-loathing, but I still have all my loyal readers – Christopher, Warren, Grizzly, and now a fourth, Valerie. What more could I ask for? An Easter Egg perhaps.

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.

Welcoming a Labour, Tory and Green love in (while everyone hates the Lib Dems)

Earlier this evening there was a lovely exchange on Twitter. Green Ben Duncan wrote: “Just got canvassed by Labour candidate Tom French – very nice young man. I’ll be voting for me instead though!”. Emma Daniel liked this, writing: “@KemptownBen That’s a really nice tweet! I like it when you guys play nicely!”. Robocop Ben replied: “Well thanks. Me too! We all aspire to be councillors, we have that weirdness in common, whatever our chosen parties!”

Conduct of candidates and councillors has been a theme on this blog in recent days after Craig Turton urged me to focus on issues rather than personalities before rather spoiling it by making some rather personal digs at Maria Caulfield, Mary Mears and Ayas Fallon-Khan.

This being Sunday, Craig has come to confession: “Yep BPB, I admit one could take my references to certain opposition councillors as slightly hypocritical when calling on you to look at issues rather than personalities (GOTCHA in Sun-speak) but my references aren’t nasty, just light hearted (unlike recent Tory vitriol). Politics aside, I get on with Ayas very well but also Maria and they’re both big enough to take a ribbing.”

And before I knew it, a mutual love-in had begun with Jason Kitcat writing: “I agree with Craig, there has been a steady decline in the standards of behaviour on the council. It’s frankly embarrassing to see some of the personal attacks, point scoring and name calling that goes on in some tax-payer funded public council meetings. Governance committee has been particularly bad as well as full council.”

So will everyone sign up to the Reverand Father BPB’s Charter: “Love Your Election Opponent as Much as You Love Yourself”? I won’t hold my breath …. (PS. The Lib Dems are exempt from this Charter!)

Meanwhile, the speculation over Labour’s candidate in St Peters and North Laine is over with Dan Wilson reporting that the “very brilliant Clare Calder will be on Labour’s slate in SPNL”. Fellow Labour candidate in SPNL, Pete Gillman, writes: “Excellent news today regarding the announcement of Clare our new candidate who is a superb addition to the team.”

Clare does make an interesting addition to the body politic. At 18, she is the youngest ever candidate to stand for election for Brighton and Hove City Council, and she makes Momma Grizzly, at 22, look rather aged. Perhaps Grandmomma Grizzly should be her new name! The Calder name is well known in St Peters given that her mother, former Argus columnist Jean Calder, is a former councillor in the area. (My apologies to Clare for having misspelt her name in earlier posts).

So is everyone is happy and are there group hugs in SPNL? Well, no. Geoffrey Bowden, Green candidate in Queens Park sounds a discordant note: “Who cares who Labour is putting up in St Peter’s North Laine at this late stage in the campaign? The Green Party’s sitting councillors and the very large local party team have been campaigning for months and are practically through the third canvas of the ward. Nothing is being taken for granted, but the returns indicate that the majorities for all three Green candidates will be as large as last year’s bi-election win for Lizzie Dean.”

Possibly, but stranger things have happened…

The campaign in Queens Park is getting lively and turning nasty!

Labour’s Tom French alleges that Green Queens Park councillor Ben Duncan was “slated by member of public for not attending 6 Police Authority meetings”.  Really?  The public no less.  Everyone of them?  Tom French then says that the Tories  “refuse to protect local bus services in Queen’s Park”.  The infamous, number 81 no less, the one with ‘Brian Fitch’ on the front.  He calls on another Green councillor, Jason Kitcat, to support the campaign to save the number 81.  Councillor Kitcat replies “if valued bus services are being actually cut then I’d be very very worried. But no firm signs of that yet”.  Then councillor Kitcat says “AFAIK”. What could he possibly mean?

The Queens Park campaign is likely to be one of the liveliest in the city.  The three Labour candidates, media-savvy Tom French, local community activist-extraordinaire Chris Cooke, and the other one (the lovely Dan Chapman) are hard workers, part of the new breed of Labour activists who lack electoral experience (which is a good thing given the tired out hacks on the council radiate doom and defeat). 

But up against them is the Green Dream Team, sitting councillor Ben Duncan (who cares if he misses the occasional meeting – focus on your own campaign, Tom French.  Attacking a popular and hardworking councillor like Ben Duncan makes you look shallow).  Steph Powell, a youth worker, is energetic and personable, and offers an alternative to voters because it is rumoured she is not a gay man!  Again it is rumoured that Labour tried to recruit her as recently as November.  Geoffrey Bowden, the Sussex Square, matches Tom French in his use of new media.  He is a communications consultant, no less. 

Queens Park was the outstanding result last time for the Greens.  Ben Duncan, the very popular Rachel Fryer and the much respected Paul Steedman ousted Labour’s leadership on the Council, Simon Burgess, Ken Bodfish and Delia Forrester.  Ben beat Delia by a mere 15 votes, but it would be wrong to think that a small swing to Labour nationally will even things up and allow Labour back in.  Rachel, Paul and Ben have consolidated the Greens position and the Greens could be on the verge of being the natural party to represent Queens Park.

But one shouldn’t forget Chris Cooke who has been everywhere in Queens Park over the last few years, with a profile as high as that of an active councillor.  We could get a split decision here.  My prediction is that Queens Park will return 3 Greens or 2 Greens and one Labour councillor.  No wonder it is a lively battle, and no wonder it is getting dirty!

Ben Duncan – the “Standards Committee” madness continues

Just when it appeared that sanity had returned to the democratic process with the clearing of Jason Kitcat following the party-political inspired vendetta against him, news comes of a fresh attack on another Green councillor.

Queens Park councillor Ben Duncan has been told that a formal standards committee will examine a blog he wrote about the policing of a demonstration in Brighton.  It was another “standards committee” that led to the fiasco against Jason Kitcat that has cost local people “thousands of Pounds”.

The name of the complainant is not yet known, nor the precise allegations against councillor Duncan.  What is it about Tory, Labour and Lib Dem councillors (all of whom were implicated in the witch-hunt against Jason Kitcat) that they resort to the tactics of school prefect bullies.  It is one thing to disagree with your political opponents, and to attack them for their views, but to try to silence them through the use of a proceduralistic measure, such as a so-called “standards committee” when there is an in-built majority of your political opponents is a disgrace.

Politicians should be free to blog, to criticise policing of demonstrations, as Ben Duncan has done.  They shouldn’t be personally critical of ordinary council officers, although political opponents are fair game.

Ben Duncan has commented: “Standards procedures are about preventing fraud, dishonesty, corruption in public life, or bringing the council into disrepute.  If it is a matter of political diagreement about a matter of policyit is entirely inappropriate for a public body to investigate and for the taxpayer to foot the bill”.

I call on the leaders of all political groups on the City Council (Mary Mears, Gill Mitchell, Bill Randall, and Paul Elgood) to come togther to say that they disapprove of the standards procedures being used to surpress political comment and will condemn any group members who becomes involved in surpressing free speech.

A round-up of political blogs in Brighton and Hove (Part 2)

This is the second installment of my occasional round-up of Brighton (and Hove) political blogs.

Luke Walter: Luke’s Blog ‘The Plural Progressive’ is a pale reflection on his prolific presence on Twitter. The last time Luke posted something on his blog was 18th May which is a great shame since his posts were well worth reading.  Take, for his example, his post Momentum from 9th May which provides a great analysis of the Green’s chances in next May’s local elections.  Come on, Luke, get blogging again.

Mary Mears:  I enjoy Mary’s blog.  It is nicely sectarian, never afraid to have a dig at opposition councillors, not least Ben Duncan who seems to get to Mary regarding his comments on EDO.  May is a highly effective politician and is underestimated by her opponents at their peril.  I profoundly disagree with a lot of what she says, but she has insights that make her one of the foremost bloggers locally – and she blogs on such a regular basis for someone so busy.

Metrodeco’s Brighton Blog: All the big stories, all the big news, all the big gossip…  Not necessarily a political blog but worth dipping into from time to time as this blog offers an interesting perspective on life in Kemptown.

Nancy Platts: Since her defeat at the general election, Nancy has moved back to London but has promised to move back to Brighton should she be selected to take on Caroline Lucas at the next General Election.  (Don’t do it, Nancy, you will get heavily defeated.  Chose a winnable seat which Brighton Pavilion won’t be next time unless it emerges that Caroline Lucas is an alien receiving backhanders from the airline industry).  Her Brighton blog (like that of her Tory opponent Chuck Vere) has been put on ice.  Follow the link and you will be told “Holding page for http://www.nancyplatts.com”. Probably one to remove until, and if, Nancy returns.

Neil Harding: Neil produces a regular, easy to read blog.  Gone is the busy landing page which confused my simple mind.  Now it is clean, crisp and readable.  A good, honest blogger who provides an important perspective on politics in Hove (and Brighton).

I’ll review others next time.  Please let me know if I have missed any local political blogs.  I am aware that there is a shortage of local Labour blogs.  Please suggest some.

A round-up of political blogs in Brighton and Hove (Part 1)

Here is the first part of my occasional round-up of political blogs in Brighton and Hove.

Caroline Lucas: Caroline has the great advantage of being the sitting MP for Brighton Pavilion.  She doesn’t over do her blog, posting every three or four weeks on a matter of some substance or of local concern.  The rest of her website is stuffed full of information that should be of interest to her constituents.  A must read blog.

Charlotte Vere: I was criticised for calling Scott Seaman-Digby (Tory Central Office’s favourite to take on Caroline Lucas who lost out to Chuck Vere in the open caucus experiment) a ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ kind of politician.  He immediately disappeared back from whence he came.  Chuck Vere, on the other hand, continues to take regular pops at Caroline Lucas but has rarely returned to Brighton since her defeat.  She will, one suspects, search out her old map of Brighton when selection time is once again upon us.  As for her website, all you get when trying to open it is the following message: “Website currently being maintained and updated, please check back in a few days”.  I will.  I did like Chuck and, even though I did not shed a tear when she lost, she was a formidable individual who enlivened the local political scene.

Amy Kennedy: Green Amy hasn’t posted anything since 1st May, and that is a source of great regret, at least for this blogger.  I know I teased her for being the Delia Smith of the Green Party, and praised her taste for Stassi-styled tabards, but on a more serious note she is a strong feminist and I was pleased to plug a video of a speech she gave to the Council on women’s issues.  There are not enough local feminist political bloggers around, so I would urge her to make a comeback.  She is also a leading authority on planning issues, and I learned much from her posts.

Ben Duncan: Kemptown Ben is one of the most prolific bloggers locally, and his blog is a must read for anyone with an interest in Council matters and in the policing of the city.  Ben’s blog is great because it is regular and relevant, providing up-to-date analysis of local issues, and a fresh perspective not provided by the Brighton Argus.  Nothing more needs to be said other than “Read Ben’s blog”.

Jean Calder:  My Blog Roll has, until today, linked to Jean’s Argus Blog which provides an archive for her much missed column in the Argus.  But I am pleased to see that, in recent weeks, Jean has begun blogging on a new site, The Jean Calder Chronicles.  Her blog does not make easy reading, and is a strange mix covering as she does local and national politics as well as recording violence against women and children (and in a recent post the murder of Jay Abatan). The titles used for some of her posts makes clear the thrust of her blog “Death of Lorraine Head”, “Death of Laura Wilson”, “Death of Assia Shahzad” and so on.  It is sobering to see her factual and respectful accounts of the killings of these women, usually at the hands of a male family member. However, she does cover politics and other local issues.  Always worth reading.

More in the next few days.  Until then, feel free to comment on what I have said about other people’s blogs, and have a say about this blog.  My favourite comments about my blog include these from someone styling himself/herself simply as ‘kemptown’:  “Your writing is not very original. Your blog is not kept up-to-date. It is pretty dull to the average person. In fact it is just not very good” and on another occasion “You really are a bit odd and this blog is not really very good; come on do some real blogging for a change”.   Makes me proud to be appreciated!

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.