Reflecting of the reasons for the Conservative victory in the Westbourne by-election

First of all, congratulations to Graham Cox on his victory. Here is the full result:
Graham Cox (Conservative) 1027
Nigel Jenner (Labour) 826
Louisa Greenbaum (Green) 645
Gareth Jone (LibDem) 45
Paul Perrin (UKIP) 36
Pip Tindall (TUSC) 26
Susan Collard (European Citizens) 13

It was definitely a good night for the Tories made all that better by Labour beating the Greens into second place. I think there are three factors that resulted in this good result:

Graham Cox: Graham, as I have said since his selection, was an inspired choice. His appeal transcends traditional party loyalties and we can expect to see him rising very quickly into a leadership position within the Tory ranks.
The Legacy of The Bishop: Graham’s predecessor, Brian Oxley, was well-respected and some support for Graham will have been derived from Brian. Graham will no doubt convert those loyalty votes for Brian to his own.
Mike Weatherley: In spite of rumoured tensions between Graham and Mike, the current standing and high profile of the MP for Hove will have benefited Graham.

Labour’s performance will have brought some quiet satisfaction. While they did not win the seat, Labour achieved its primary objective of beating the Greens. It was noticeable that the tone of most of Labour’s message at present in Brighton and Hove is anti-Green. Perhaps now it will turn it’s focus on the Tories who are, after all, enforcing the cuts on Brighton and Hove. The unrelenting attacks on the Greens is somewhat disingenuous.

For the Greens, third place behind Labour in second is the second worst result possible. (The worst result would to have been beaten by UKIP). In May the Greens did little work in the ward. In this by-election they worked it to win but did not improve their position or share of the vote.

As mentioned above, the Greens have been subjected to unrelenting attacks from the Argus and by three individual Labour members, Lord Bassam, Caroline Penn, and councillor Warren Morgan. While Jason Kitcat has diligently responded in a statesmanlike manner, the attacks are what the Greens must expect for the next three and a half years leading up to May 2015.

Labour’s LOLA campaign (Leave Our Loos Alone) shows some imagination. I would be interested to know who came up with this idea. More of that kind of propaganda will serve Labour well.

The Tories have cause to celebrate, Labour too. The Greens need to lick their wounds, reflect on where they have arrive in the political cycle, and devise a strategy for recovery. I will return to this theme in the new year.

But there was one big loser in this by-election whose performance betrayed his previous unblemished record, and that was the prediction of your Humble Blogger. As my three regular readers (Doris, Biker Dave and Grizzly) will know, my forecasts are usually spot on. But this time, failure. In mitigation, I did recognise the personal strengths of Graham Cox from the moment he was first selected and thought that his selection made a Tory victory a real possibility.

By way of contrition, I will share something later this evening about councillor Cox and me. This revelation will not doubt be the talk around Christmas trees of Brighton and Hove this Festive Season.

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Graham Cox, Conservative, wins the Westbourne by-election

The holding of the seat by the Tories has little consequence to the overall political scene in Brighton and Hove. Yes, both Labour and the Greens will be disappointed not to have picked up the seat, but The Bishop (Brian Oxley) had a good reputation and both The Bishop’s legacy and the reputation of Graham Cox will have swung it for the Tories.

Labour will be pleased to have retained second place but they need to pickup seats like Westbourne if they are to challenge for control of the City Council. The Greens will inevitably see this as a set back, not least for their ambitions in Hove. They will have to get used to the unrelenting attacks on the administration, and learn how to combat such attacks.

But my initial reaction to the result is that an extraordinary candidate can capture the imagination of the electorate. Caroline Lucas did it in Brighton Pavilion, and Graham Cox has done it in Westbourne. There are few candidates who will be as well know, have such a long track record in the area, and be as widely respected as Graham is by supporters of all parties and none.

Congratulations to councillor Graham Cox, and commiserations to the other six candidates.

I will reflect more overnight on the implications for Labour and the Greens.

Westbourne by-election: Greens select male, 50’s as its candidate. But, wait, what is this cunning plan ….?

There we have it, following the trend started by UKIP (Paul Perrin, male, 14 and three quarters), Labour (Nigel Jenner, male, 50’s), the Conservatives (Supercop Graham Cox, male, 50’s), and the Lib Dems (Gareth Jones, male, seems mid 50’s), the Greens have followed suit by selecting a candidate who is male, 50’s.

But wouldn’t you believe it, the pesky Green candidate is masquerading as a female, in her 30’s, going by the name Louisa Greenbaum. And slyly, she actually lives in the ward, stood there in May in the local elections, is not just now discovering an interest in education but has two children in a local school where (it is rumoured) she is a governor. Now it is clear that I am showing my bias, putting a green gloss on this candidate because of the hostility I have for Labour that has been evident since I was in the womb.

I hear that Louisa has been the front-runner in the selection, possibly the sole candidate from the outset. Without wanting to provoke the displeasure of my Labour friends, it is clear that on so many levels, Louisa is different from the Identi-kit candidates of the other parties. Last week, immediately after the resignation of the Bishop, I suggested that Labour’s Caroline Penn (female, 30’s) would have made a strong candidate. But on this and many other things, Labour did not listen to me. But never mind. I do look forward to an exciting election campaign, and I genuinely wish all five candidates well. But on the basis of candidates selected, the Greens, followed by the Tories, have made the best start.

Westbourne By-election: Spare me the facts, speculation is rife about dates and candidates

The by-election caused by the resignation of respected Conservative, Brian Oxley, is going to be the big story in Brighton and Hove politics over the next few weeks, and the immediate two questions are: When will the by-election be held; and who will be the candidates.

But first, it has emerged that The Bishop has resigned to move closer to his elderly father who lives in Derby. It comes as no surprise that his resignation has been driven by a matter of principle, reflecting the quality that has made Brian the respected politician he is, respect that goes across party divide.

An example of that respect comes from someone at the opposite end of the political spectrum, Alex Phillips. Lady Everton wrote of Brian on Twitter: “Unsure as to why he stood down. He was very good though. A man I respected even if I didn’t agree with him. A gentleman.”

‘Clive’ who usually provides insightful and constructive comments on this blog, once again makes a helpful comment: “I don’t know the man at all except by repute, but he managed to pile up a lot of votes in Westbourne which must say something. As I’ve said on here before, that ward shouldn’t really be as blue as it is. One way or another I have a feeling that it won’t be after this byelection.”

When will the by-election be held? Valerie Paynter suggests that “residents won’t want the distraction of an election at Christmas.  That much is certain.” Valerie is probably right, but what is more relevant is that neither the Tories nor Labour will want a pre-Christmas by-election. They are both still licking their wounds and have been introspective since May.

The Greens, on the other hand, have everything to gain from an early poll. A December by-election will come before the details of the Council’s budget are fully absorbed. The Greens continue to have momentum, and an election before Christmas, when most people would be distracted, has the prospect of Green supporters in areas such as Westbourne being less flakey than those of the other parties. At present, as I have said in recent posts, given the choice locally of the parties of Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Caroline Lucas, I know which comes across as more aspirational and exciting.

As for candidates, my first prediction has proven to be way off the mark! Luke Walter won’t narrowly beat Caroline Penn as I suggested yesterday. Nor will he win, and neither will she. I have had it on very good sources that neither will be allowing their name to go forward for selection. A shame as both would make excellent councillors.

Someone in the know, Valerie Paynter, has suggested several names including Patrick Lowe (who also lost in Hollingdean in May), or Robert Nemeth (who lost to a Green in the previously safe seat of Withdean, and before that to a Green in Regency). Valerie dismisses the chances of Jan Young who, she says, “lost Central for a reason.  For CH to have been chosen over her seems to me to be more about rejecting her than showing enthusiasm for CH.  A number of residents led me to conclude this.”

Valerie’s comments suggest a split between the Hove Tory Establishment and the camp around Mike Weatherley. She suggests that the Tories will need to “rely very, very heavily on the goodwill that MP Mike Weatherley has accrued over his first year as a highly active Constituency MP in order to provide any hope for themselves in the by-election.”

If that is the case, which of his Young Turks will be the Anointed One? Will it be the Estate Agent, Rob Buckwell, a ‘veteran’ of by-elections having stood and lost in the St Peters & North Laine by-election? Perhaps the smart and fast rising Robert Nemeth, as suggested by Ms P? Could it be the genuinely delightful and charming Michael Ireland, surely a huge asset on the doorstep? Or could it be your blogger’s personal favourite, Momma Grizzly herself?

I have heard some whispers about possible candidates including a Green candidate, early 40’s, who sounds as though she may well make a positive impact in a by-election and on the Council. More on her and other possible candidates tomorrow. In the meantime, you can share your take on the by-election either by DM me @BrightonPolitic or emailing me at brightonpoliticsblogger@googlemail.com. I’ll share your comments only with my three regular readers (Grizzly, Biker Dave, and welcome to So Cool Soozie, a woman with a certain mystery…).

Brian Oxley resigns seat on Brighton & Hove City Council: 3-way by-election pending

Brian Oxley, the much respected Tory Councillor has resigned his Westbourne seat on Brighton and Hove City Council which will see a by-election in this three-way marginal, possibly this side of Christmas.

Brian, also known to my loyal readers (down now to just Grizzly and Biker Dave) as The Bishop, topped the poll in May’s local elections with 1,228 votes. His fellow Tory, Denise Cobb, in second place, polled 1,152. And this is where it gets interesting. Just 132 votes behind Denise was Labour’s Simon Battle on 1,020 with the Green’s Louisa Greenbaum 109 behind Simon with 911 votes.

Given that Labour fought a hard fight in May with the Greens fielding, in effect, paper candidates in a seat which they felt they had little chance of winning. The exception to that view was Christopher Hawtree whose predictions one ignores at one’s peril, as I found out to my cost with his sensational win in Central Hove.

With their superior organisation skills, the momentum they continue to enjoy, and the loss of a popular Tory from the ballot paper, this is a genuine 3-way marginal.

Much will depend on the selection of candidate. In the Goldsmid by-election the Greens had an exceptional candidate in Alex Phillips who won the seat, the Green’s first in Hove. What is more, she won it from the Tories, dispelling the myth that the Greens could only win seats from Labour.

A possible candidate for the Tories would be Jan Young who lost her Central Hove seat to the said councillor Hawtree. She would benefit from name recognition as a former leading member of the last Tory administration.

Labour’s Simon Battle is a former councillor, well known and liked, but I suspect he does not have the stomach for over three years in a third party with no influence and less prospects. I can’t see him standing. Caroline Penn might put herself forward. She is likeable, modest, hardworking, energetic and might, I suspect, have ambitions beyond the local authority. Could she see a successful by-election campaign as the springboard to become Caroline4Hove in 2015?

The risk for Caroline would be a loss to the victorious Greens, something I think is very possible. For her, for any Labour candidate, to lose to the Greens would set up the Hove 2015 election very nicely. The key, I think, is the Green candidate. Waiting in the wings, and now living in the area is the Greens’ Luke Walter. I have described him as the best councillor not to be elected in May when he lost out in Hollingdean and Stanmer to the formidable Jeane Lepper.

Luke Walter, together with Alex Phillips, were the unsung heroes of the Caroline Lucas’ campaign in 2010. If he was to be selected, and the might of the Green Machine was to rally behind him, I would put good money on the Greens gaining the seat in the by-election, with Caroline Penn a close second.

State of the City 2 – The Tories

I like Mary Mears, and I like Geoffrey Theobald. They are two of the great servants of the city, both proud leaders, past and present, of the Conservative Group on the City Council. The problem is, and here I let you into a tiny secret, they are not great fans of each other.

For several years there has been a fault running through the local Conservative Party, or should that be Conservative Parties? The Brighton Pavilion and Hove Associations are as one, sharing a single website, but the Brighton Kemptown Association is cast out into deepest outer space.

The exception to this rift is the relationship between the two Conservative MPs, Mike Weatherley (Hove) and Simon Kirby (Brighton Kemptown). The two obviously like each other and often are seen together at events. It is, perhaps, their friendship that might build the bridge between the two sides.

One would have thought that there was more to unite them than to divide them, not least the threat posed by the Greens across Brighton and Hove, although this threat is posed primarily in Brighton Pavlion and in Hove.

So apart from the divisions between the Conservative Associations themselves, where are the dividing lines? Clearly Mary Mears and Geoffrey Theobald have deleted each other from their respective Christmas Card lists. Several supporters of Mary Mears were unsuccessful in May’s local elections, thereby paving the way for Geoffrey Theobald’s successful challenge for the Leadership.

Simon Kirby is close to Mike Weatherley, and Mike appears to be close to Geoffrey, Mary remains close to Simon, perhaps through The Bishop, Brian Oxley, who works for Simon and who was Mary’s loyal Deputy Leader. Brian is a councillor in Hove, a fellow ward councillor in Westbourne with Denise Cobb, now one of Geoffrey’s deputies.

I am advised by one of my sources within the Tory ranks that there is a debate about the right kind of candidate to stand in future elections. Mike Weatherley and Simon Kirby both had hugely successful private sector businesses successes before entering politics. Historically private non-political achievement seemed to be a prerequisite for progressing in Tory Party politics. Now with the bright young things working for Mike (Momma Grizzly, Mike Ireland and Robert Nemeth) it seems to be easier to progress as a political employee than someone with a non-political career. Don’t get me wrong, all three are very talented with strongly held and passionate views, and each one will make a formidable councillor or, as is more likely in the long term (especially with the Grizzly One) member of parliament.

(It is worth noting that a few former Green councillors did not stand again at the recent elections because they found being a councillor was not compatible with progressing their professional careers).

One person who tends to be highly spoken of by all factions (I hope my endorsement does not harm him), and who has even struck up a positive working relationship with fellow ward councillor, the Green Christopher Hawtree, is Andrew Wealls, who is much liked and admired by councillors from both Tory factions and by his political opponents alike.

Like Labour, the Tories need their own ‘Big Idea’ so that at a local level the Tories have something positive to promote.  The standing of the Tory Party nationally will struggle during the lifetime of this parliament.  Further civil unrest will cause further damage.  Cameron, Boris, and the others have hardly covered themselves in glory first time round, not coming home from foreign holidays at the earliest opportunity as London burned.  The Tories are being successful in turning key constituencies against them – the police and the army,  to mention just two.

Mike and Simon continue to work hard, pumping out regular press releases to key media outlets (thanks for all of them, boys).  Bolundary changes might help them, but both have challenging times ahead, particularly Mike with a determined Green Party likely to run him close in 2015.  It’s great to form a government, but it’s not much fun when your party becomes increasingly unpopular.

Is there any place for comedy in politics?

The excellent piece by Pearl Ahrens got me thinking about humour in politics. Here’s a start: A man with a crocodile walks into a pub and asks the barman: “Do you serve Lib Dems?” “Sure”, says the barman. Man: “Could I have a pint of beer and a Lib Dem for my croc”. Not very funny, I know, and I adapted it from a joke told by Kevin Maguire on Twitter the other night. The butt of Kevin’s version were social workers, so I am showing some bias in the telling.

Politicians of all parties can be funny, but I am not sure whether they (we) as a breed are naturally funny. The ‘jokes’ at Prime Minister’s Questions are often very laboured, well prepared, and delivered with the same gentle touch that Vinnie Jones employs when he arranges flowers.

In Britain we have been blessed by generations of amazing satirists who have brought pompous politicians down to earth. Among my favourites is Brighton’s own Steve Bell. I’m not sure what kind of mind he has. How does someone think to picture John Major wearing his underpants outside his trousers? I heard from the great man himself (Bell, not Major) that Michael Hesseltine had loved being portrayed as Tarzan, even offering to pay a large sum of money for an original until Bell told Tarzan’s assistant that the cheque should be made payable to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament!

Much political humour is aimed at putting down one’s political opponents. Much of Churchill’s humour had a nasty edge, saying that Clem Atlee had a lot to be humble about, his reference to an empty taxi pulling up outside No 10 and out stepped Mr Attlee, and saying to a woman who had accused him of being drunk that she was ugly but at least he would be sober in the morning.

I can be accused of name calling on this blog, and I apologise if anyone has taken offence, although I think that secretly – or not so secretly – my ‘victims’ quite like my feeble attempts at humour. Momma Grizzly uses that description on her Twitter profile. The Estate Agent enjoys his title not so much, nor le Toothbrush or la Toothbrush. I’m not sure what Lady Everton, the Bishop, and others think of their names. I am advised, and The Ghost of Nobby Clarke can tell me if this is true, that the former Labour rebel, Richard Stanton used to refer to a very macho Labour Chief Whip (whose name I can’t remember) as Skippy (as in the Kangaroo). He apparently hated it.

Actually, the reason for this post is so that I can tell a couple of feeble jokes, and hopefully you can respond in kind. So here goes –

A politician went to see his doctor: “Doctor, I’m addicted to Twitter”. The doctor replied: “I’m sorry, I don’t follow you”.

At a political meeting I met a young women. I asked her her name. “Chantelle”, she said. I said “Go on”.

And finally, a joke I’ve told on this blog before: A man goes into the Lib Dem bookshop and asks the assistant: “Can I have a copy of your manifesto?”. “Sorry, we’ve sold out”. “I know that, but can I have a copy of your manifesto?”.