‘Summersgate’ is simply poor politics

I think I have upset some of my Green friends over ‘Summersgate’. Last night I was challenged by Rob Jarrett to say what my views are on equal marriage. I responded to @RobHove as follows: “100% in favour of equal marriage, 100% disagree with Christina Summers, 100% think Greens have made massive error expelling her”.

Equal marriage isn’t the issue here. In fact it is not something that the Council has any power over. The issue is making an issue of an issue vaguely related to that issue, if you follow me. No? I’ve commented on the politics, not the equal marriage issue. The fact that we are still discussing the expulsion of Christina Summers from the Green Group is an indication, not of a very wide consensus in favour of equal marriage, but of poor politics.

Politicians must be on their guard to avoid simple traps that can destroy reputations, personally or for the party as a whole. Often it is down to arrogance or immaturity, and often a fatal combination of both. Look at the Conservatives. They are falling over backward to assert their support for the police following Andrew Mitchell and ‘Gategate’. It detracts from their message and has become something far more damaging than the incident itself warranted.

The Lib Dems, bless, carry many burdens: Nick Clegg, Tuition Fees, being Lib Dems. How impressed we all were with ‘I’m Sorry’, now gone viral on YouTube. ‘Sorrygate‘ has had more than a million hits in just four days. I prefer the ‘gate’ associated with the Lib Dems to be known simply as ‘lackinganymoralfibregate’ but then I am just plain mean.

Labour is burdened, and will be for a generation, with something far more serious, Iraq. No matter how reformed they become, even if Ed Miliband was to do his own version of ‘I’m Sorry’ it is still going to take a lot more before Labour will be trusted again on foreign policy. Coming into Government, Labour’s ethical foreign policy promised so much …..!

But back to the Greens on the City Council. Overall I think they are doing well but losing the PR war quite badly. They are not unique. All incoming administrations struggle after their initial honeymoon. How the Greens respond over the next 12 to 18 months will be critical. They need to focus on what they were elected to do. Local councillors, when all is said and done, are elected to ensure they deliver good local services. Are bins being emptied and the streets cleaned? Can their children get into the school of their choice? What do people think of library services? Where will their children and grandchildren live? Is there visible homelessness on the streets? How good is the bus service? Is there traffic congestion? What is the economic outlook for the area? And so on.

Of course much is beyond the control of local government with spending constraints being imposed on an unparalleled level, the banks refusing mortgages, the overall economy.

So, how do I think the Green Administration is doing. Overall, very well. There is a good feeling around Brighton. The streets are clean, the bins are emptied, sensible decisions have been made about safeguarding services to the most vulnerable. The attacks of Labour and Tory activists are predictable, and are not any more representative of the views of the general public than, say, the views of this humble blogger.

The Greens have won praise and respect for their approach to budget setting which is more open than anything that has gone before. Jason Kitcat and, before him, Bill Randall, are both well respected, as are many leading members of the administration. They haven’t been assisted by the turmoil, not of their making, within the officer class at the Council.

My advice to the Greens is to carry on as you have begun, engage more with people outside the Council (council officers are not your electorate), and please avoid any future silly own goals such as Summersgate.

I am sure that there are other issues that are bubbling away in the background. I am advised that a few Green councillors are exercised about prayers at council meetings. Nobody cares about prayers before meetings other than a few councillors. It doesn’t impact on the lives of ordinary people. If you are tempted to try to do something about them you will become a laughing stock rather than the serious political force that you have become through many years of diligent building and for which you have my respect.

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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!)

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

What are you doing, Brighton? Since I last commented on the affairs of this fair city the wheels on the bus no longer seem to be going round and round, but seem to have fallen off.

In the space of 3 months the Dear Leader, Bill Randall, has been replaced by the Son of the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-Kitcat, or Jason as he prefers to be known. Well, that had been anticipated for many months, so no shock there. But from a tier of 5 senior officers (a chief executive and 4 Super Directors) three are moving on to pastures new.

In September chief executive, John Barradell, is moving to take up a similar position in the Corporation of the City of London, Charlie Stewart is to become the chief executive of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, and David Murray is heading off to, actually I have no idea where.  In the case of Biker Dave, it was a bit of a pantomime, a matter of “is he going? Yes he is. Oh no he isn’t, he’s going to become interim chief executive! Oh no he’s not! Oh yes he is!” etc.

In fact Finance Director, Catherine Vaughan, who has never before enjoyed such high prestige (by which I mean featuring in this esteemed blog), has been recommended to act up …. as interim chief executive. Catherine is highly respected, and is said to have a good working relationship with Jason Kitcat from his time as Finance Chief. They will need to work well together because the next year could be brutal as the Council has to make up the amount to be lost following Labour and the Conservatives acceptance of the government’s council tax freeze bribe, and further cuts to budgets. How they managed the budget process for 2012/13 was very impressive, and bodes well for Jason Kitcat’s leadership should he remain engaged and responds on a political level.

Back to wheels on the bus. The axing of the bus routes, and the confusion over bus tenders, hasn’t looked good for the Greens. A u-turn in the last couple of days, when a wedge of cash was found down the back of the sofa, has saved the services. Is this yet another great result for the fearless campaign to save the number …? What number is it this week, councillor Fitch

Labour has run a successful campaign to save the bus routes. And credit hear should go to councillor Gill Mitchell and the party dynamo, Caroline Penn, who always seems to be snapping at the heals of the Greens and Tories, taking well aimed bites along the way.
Labour seems to be in good spirits following its restructuring, and once again full of fight.

The Enigmatic Flo has lamented my absence in recent months, asking why I was not giving credit where credit is due. She has chastised me saying it is about time I said something nice about Labour. Yes, the Labour Party in Brighton and Hove seems to be in much better shape, taking the Greens on in a concerted fight back. Target seats have been identified, with Hollingdean and Stanmer being high on their hit list.

Being the political establishment is never easy, and the Greens have taken a knocking in recent months. Labour made a mistake some years back when they had highly competent people at the helm of the City Council, but they lost the political argument. Something similar is happening with the Greens. The bus fiasco hasn’t helped.

The Tories are not benefiting much from the Green’s ill-ease. Apart from Bulldog Bobby from Westbourne, my identical twin brother, Graham Cox, they are lacking punch. The Bulldog appears to be doing all the running, and my prediction is that it will be Bobby who leads the Tories into the 2015 local elections.

But neither Labour or the Conservatives should be complacent over the difficulties being experienced by the Greens. All administrations have difficulties, but there are some good political tacticians within the Green ranks. As long as the Green Group doesn’t assume it is the Green Party locally to the exclusion of others (as the Labour Group did in Brighton from which it is only just recovering) the Greens will remain a political force locally. After all, the Greens have a trump card, and one that infuriates Labour activists. Remaining the outstanding politician in the City, head and shoulders above the rest, is Caroline Lucas.

Brighton at its best: united against fascism, against the ‘March for England’, and against the English Defence League

Today the centre Brighton came to a standstill as thousands of anti-fascist demonstrators gave the few hundred on the so-called “March for England” a really hard time. Most people know that the March for England is nothing but a front for the English Defence League (EDL).

From reports on Twitter, it sounds as though there were street fights in Church Road and police horse charges in Queens Road. From reports from those on the counter-demonstration it seems as though the police may have lost control for a short while and were heavy-handed, resorting to baton charges and the use of pepper spray. All this on a glorious spring Sunday afternoon in Brighton!

Brighton has a proud record of opposing all attempts by extreme right-wing groups from marching and meeting here. A new book by the veteran anti-Nazi campaigner, Tony Greenstein, catalogues this opposition.

I understand that both the Green Member of Parliament for Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas, and the Green Leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, Bill Randall, were on the counter-demonstration. I understand that this was probably the first time in Brighton’s history that both the leader of the council and one of the local MPs have been on such a demonstration. After the appalling massacre in Norway, all anti-fascists, on the left and right, should have been on this demonstration. I’m sure that there were other councillors there and I would have hoped that both Conservative MPs would have realised the importance of taking a stand by being there in order to protect Brighton and Hove’s reputation as a cosmopolitan, inclusive City.

Perhaps readers could let me know which other leading politicians were there today. They, Unite Against Fascism, and the several thousand of other counter-demonstrators deserve our thanks.

Britain’s first-ever Green Mayor to lead Brighton Naked Bike Ride on 10th June

My regular readers, (Grizzly, Doris and Biker Dave) will know that I am often accused of being a crypto-Green. Indeed the Enigmatic Flo has been known to voice such concerns herself. But not today. I must say that the announcement by Mayor-elect, Bill Randall, that one of his first engagements after standing down as Council leader to become the City’s First Citizen, is not in keeping with the status and dignity of the Mayoralty.

Councillor Randall has announced that he will be leading the Naked Bike Ride on 10th June wearing nothing but the Mayoral Chain.

While Brighton and Hove welcomes all-comers, has a raffish-reputation, and (as councillor Randall likes to quote Keith Waterhouse) a town that appears to be helping the police with their enquiries, there are certain things the Mayor should not do.

Quick to condemn the Mayor-elect was Hangleton and Knoll councillor, Dawn Barnett: “I cannot believe the bare-face cheek of this. I certainly hope he won’t be displaying his wares in Hangleton although if he did visit the ward he might frighten off the travellers.”

Fellow Green Christopher Hawtree said: “Bill Randall is a Rabelaisian sort of chap. Not many councillors would do this, but I believe Bill Randall can pull it off.”

Councillor Randall has defended his decision: “The Brighton Naked Bike Ride is part of the World Naked Bike Ride, an event that celebrates bikes and bodies, protests against car culture and demonstrates cyclists’ power and vulnerability. It’s also great fun! Rides have taken place every June since 2006 but this is the first time the Mayor will have blessed it with his or her presence.

“I am a bit nervous but I am sure that the event will flash by.”

The Green Party ‘establishment’ at sixes and sevens over Jason Kitcat’s decision to stand for the European Parliament

My post last night regarding the decision of councillor Jason Kitcat to put his name forward has attracted a reaction from the Green Party ‘establishment’. I received one email that aimed to set out the correct facts (something that has never unduly influenced me):

“We began our selection process for the 2014 (not 2013) European Parliamentary elections last Autumn. … That’s before Bill publicly announced he’d be standing down; let alone Jason emerging as our nominee for Leader of the Council. We are currently selecting a list of ten candidates from a total of 18 nominees. This process will end on 9th April. At that point we’ll know where Jason has been selected on the list, if at all. Since 1999 we’ve had one MEP in the Region. We are hopeful that we might make that two this time. Therefore, unless Jason is selected first or second; his chances of being elected as an MEP are more or less zero. Even if he is selected in first or second place; the election isn’t until June 2014. That’s 2 1/4 years away. I can’t see any reason why this should interfere with his work as Leader of the Council. This is especially true as we elect our Group Leader once a year, so in order for Jason to still be Leader of the Council by the time of the European Elections, he’d have to stand and be re-elected twice by the Group and Local Party.”

I’m not sure if I entirely agree that an election two and a quarter years away would not interfere with his work as Leader of the Council. I would hope it would not, but then it would be a pity if a candidate selected so early did not campaign energetically across the south east constituency during that time.

There were comments left on my earlier post that tend to contradict each other. Rob Shepherd writes: “It is not the case that Bill Randall decided to stand down after just one year in office. In fact, he made it clear when he took office that it would be only for one year” while Ben Duncan writes: “All candidates (Jason included) seeking nomination to the Green Party’s list for the European Parliamentary election put their names forward last year… well before the role of Leader of Brighton and Hove City Council became vacant”.

It could be that both are correct but it means that the right and left of the Greens aren’t aware of what the other is up to. Whatever the situation, I coninue to hold the view that Brighton and Hove City Council needs someone of the calibre of Jason Kitcat as its Leader. His effectiveness will be watered down if he was to be selected as a candidate for the European elections.
 

Is Jason Kitcat right to be seeking selection as a candidate for the European elections?

The decision of the leader-elect of the Green Party in Brighton and Hove, Jason Kitcat, to put his name forward for the panel for candidates for the European Parliament is, unsurprisingly, attracting criticism. Conservative councillor Graham Cox, for example, has tweeted “New Green Council leaders pledge lasted 14 days. Already trying to leave for Brussels.” He tweeted later “Why are the Green leaders so keen to head for Brussels? Are they bored with us locals in Brighton and Hove already?”

It is inevitable that a newly elected administration will make some mistakes and it is expected that some of what they do will be misinterpreted and misrepresented. However, some things can be avoided. Putting one’s name forward for election to a different body within weeks of being chosen to be your party’s leader on a local authority is something that could have been avoided.

Questions were raised when the current leader, Bill Randall, decided to stand down after just one year in office. He is likely to be formally elected as the Mayor at the May Council Meeting. I personally understand why councillor Randall has made his decision. As you would expect with someone like councillor Randall, it was done for very proper reasons and came as no surprise to many, including this Blogger.

Should councillor Kitcat be elected in 2013 to the European Parliament, the Greens on the City Council will have their third leader in just over a year. I for one would hope that councillor Kitcat withdraws his name from the Green list for the European Parliament in order to focus on leading the Greens up to and beyond the City Council elections in 2015. He is extremely able and should he go to the European Parliament, he would be a huge loss to the City as there are few to match his ability.