Reflections on the St Peter’s and North Laine by-election

The by-election result contains two important messages.  First, the Greens are the party with momentum.  With ten months to go, the Greens need to decide just what its ambitions are.  Does the party wish to take control of the City Council next May? 

An overall majority will be a poison chalice given that the worst of the cuts will be implemented in the three years from April 2011, and the Greens will have little room for manoeuvre unless its councillors are willing to be the local authority that defies the Coalition Government.  The price to be paid by individual councillors might be enormous.  But given the momentum of the Greens, any ambition short of overall control will not look good and will portray the Greens as a party purely for opposition. 

If the Greens are the largest party but fall short of a majority, there will be an expectation that they try to form a coalition of its own, probably with the rump of Labour councillors who survive the cull next May.  A minority administration is probably the best option for the Greens since they will be able to oppose the cuts only to be voted down time and again by the Conservatives and Labour.

It is exciting times to be a Green, but the prospects of power are not that attractive.  It will require the Greens to be disciplined, and they may have to adapt their cultural stance regarding a single leader and group discipline – they will need both!

What of Labour?  Labour needs the tide to turn, but in Brighton and Hove the tide is flowing with the Greens and the unpopularity of the Coalition Government will benefit them rather than Labour. 

What Labour needs is two things: a break-through candidate and a break-through issue.  In Caroline Lucas the Greens had a break-through candidate.  Without Lucas, the Greens may not have achieved its historic win in Brighton Pavilion.  While Labour has some first-rate candidates, Tom French being one, there is no sign of any break-through candidates for the Council election or next general election.  It needs to be someone truly outstanding.

There is also no obvious break-through issue.  Opposing the cuts will be popular, but the Greens, again, will likely reap the benefit given the high profile enjoyed by Caroline Lucas and her sheer competence.

Labour’s best bet is Caroline Lucas standing down after one term (unthinkable) and the Greens forming the administration on the City Council and then doing a Steve Bassam by implementing the cuts programme as Lord Bassam did by implementing the Poll Tax.  This scenario is equally unthinkable.

Labour can expect to lose heavily to the Greens next May, and the Greens should now be looking to take seats from the Tories.  The Greens will retain its dominant position in the following local elections (2014?) before Caroline Lucas massively increases her majority in May 2015.  Labour could win Brighton Kemptown in 2015, though it is unlikely to unseat Mike Weatherly.  If Labour forms the government in 2015, it will not recover to do well in the 2017 locals. 

So Labour cannot expect to recover its position on Brighton and Hove City Council until at least 2020.  This is not an encouraging outlook for the likes of Tom French and the other young, enthusiastic activists.  By 2020 they will not be as young and one has to question whether they will retain their enthusiasm.

Jason Kitcat should be applauded for his actions not suspended from office by a non-elected panel

The decision on the “standards committee” of Brighton and Hove City Council to suspend Councillor Jason Kitcat is shameful.  The panel found that Cllr Kitcat’s use of a video from a Council meeting was “political” and improper, particularly in regard to one “highly edited” clip of an exchange between Councillor  Geoffrey Theobald and the then mayor, Councillor Garry Peltzer Dunn.

I for one am disgusted that a non-elected panel can suspend a councillor who has been democratically elected.  There is such limited media coverage of the debates of councillors on the City Council that any democrat would welcome wider coverage, no matter how “political” it is.  If Cllr Kitcat has ‘spun’ the item, then confront him politically.  Don’t hide behind an undemocratic panel.  This is politics, councillors are all adults. 

If Cllr Kitcat has done wrong, the way to deal with him is next May in the Council elections. I suspect that Cllr Kitcat will be re-elected with a massive majority in Regency Ward.  He is one of the finest and most hard-working councillors in Brighton and Hove.  His reputation is enhanced by his opponents actions.

I imagine Geoffrey Theobald, who can mix it with the best of them, must be terribly embarrassed that his colleague, Councillor Ted Kemble, made the original complaint.  Geoffrey doesn’t need the protection of this undemocratic panel to hide his policies.

What amazes me is that the Council is about to deliberate about what cuts they are to make, cuts on an unprecedented level.  The Coalition Government wants public input.  How can we participate if we don’t have information and the widest diversity of views.

Jason Kitcat should be applauded for what he has done.  He shouldn’t apologise.  He should be encouraged to carry on tweeting from Council meetings and posting videos, views and information on whatever media is available.

The person who can resolve this is Geoffrey Theobald who, I know, is sufficiently experienced in politics not to allow himself to be diminished by the complaint of Cllr Kemble and the ruling of the panel.  He should say that an apology is not wanted nor called for.

A Tom French win could be good news for the Greens in Brighton

It is unlikely to happen – a Labour win in the St Peter’s and North Laine by-election on Thursday.  Labour’s Tom French has excelled as one of an exciting breed of young, enthusiastic Labour candidates, bringing much of the same energy and determination that characterised Labour in Brighton during the mid-19980s.  Tom will probably come a creditable second, although a win is not completely unthinkable. His time will come.

Of course a Labour win would be sensational, as was Alex Phillips’s election in the Goldsmid by-election almost a year ago to the day.  It would give Labour such a boost in the year before crucial council elections.  (Why do we say “crucial council elections”?  All elections are crucial or critical or important!).

But a Labour victory might not be a disaster for the Greens.  Of course they would never want to lose their safest seat, but it might just give them one almightly kick up the backside.  It would remind the Greens that elections are won on year-round campaigning, high profile candidates and councillors, and a clinical approach toi building the party and running election campaigns.

So where do I stand?  I would love to see Tom French elected on Thursday.  But I also don’t want to see the Greens diminished in any way on the Council.  The Lib Dems and their Tory partners have no hope.  So it allows those of you with a vote in St Peter’s and North Laine to vote for either the Labour or Green candidate without any fear of letting the Tories slip through the middle.

What I really want is the Greens to be fantastically successful next May, to end up as the largest Party.  I predict they will secure 20 seats next May.  With a real effort, some great candidates, and the people of Brighton and Hove waking up to the nightmare that is the Lib Dem Coalition, the Greens could just get a majority.  Now that would be wonderful.

Labour more guilty than the Greens of misleading the voters of Brighton Pavilion

A feature of the campaign in Brighton Pavilion were the claims and counter claims by the Greens and Labour Party in their election material regarding whether a vote for the other would let the Tories in.  This ‘debate’ has continued since Friday morning.  For example, on this blog, Dr Faust has commented that “the Green argument – that Labour couldn’t beat the Tory – was bollocks as well, and I am certain that more people believed them than Labour. Why should only Labour and not the Greens lose credibility from using the same argument?”.

So I thought I would check out who has said what about the prospects of the other party and what we can conclude about their claims.  Any emphasis is by me.

As far back as the summer of 2009, in ‘the brighton paper’ put out on behalf of Nancy Platts, Labour said “Voting Green will mean a Tory MP for Brighton”.  Wrong.  In a later edition of ‘the brighton paper’ distributed during the campaign, Labour claimed that “a vote for the Greens or the Lib Dems here risks a Conservative government nationally”.  Had Labour won Brighton Pavilion, it would not have changed a thing nationally.  So wrong again.  In a leaflet distributed in the last week or so, in the context of previous results in Brighton Pavilion, Labour asserted that “Only Labour can stop the Conservatives”. Wrong again.  In a letter dated May 2010, Nancy writes “A Green vote will mean the Conservatives slip through the middle”. Wrong x 4.  In another direct mailing to voters, Nancy asks “Greens to come third again?”.  On this occasion she leaves it as a question.  That is acceptable but on page 2 of the letter, as a post script, she states, “A Green or LibDem vote risks letting the Conservatives in through the back door”.  This is still just on the right side, presenting it as a possibility rather than saying that it would.  In an eve of poll card, Labour  says “A vote for any Party will let the Conservatives in”. This is a fifth example of Labour misleading voters.

So how do the Greens compare? In the spring edition of ‘GreenLeaf’ the interpretation of the 2009 European elections “suggests the likelihood of a Green win in Brighton Pavilion”. In a leaflet during the campaign,  the Greens state that the “LibDems cannot win her” – correct – and that the ICM poll “showed Greens ahead, with Labour & LibDems trailing the Tories”. Again correct since they did not claim that Labour would come third.  In an eve of poll leaflet, the Greens claimed that “a vote for the Green Party really could lead to the first Green MP in Westminster”. Again, correct (even had the Greens just lost).  In another leaflet claimed that “the Green Party are favourites to win in Brighton Pavilion constituency”. Apart from poor grammar (Caroline, you should know it should have been “The Green Party is favourite to win …”), this was accurate since the bookies had the Greens as evens favourite to win.  Finally, in a further leaflet the Greens warn of Labour scare-mongering, but do state “Only a Green vote can keep the Tories out of Brighton Pavilion”.  Wrong.  This is the only example I have been able to find of a misleading statement from the Greens.

On balance, the Labour Party’s credibility will be damaged because of publishing consistently misleading and incorrect statements.  The Greens should not have made their categorical statement, but the Greens did keep the issue open. To answer Dr Faust’s question about Labour and the Greens losing credibility, Labour repeatedly misled the electorate, the Greens did so just once.  The Greens were more open in their statements, and the Greens ultimately …. won.

Having said that, it was generally a clean campaign, and both Caroline Lucas and Nancy Platts emerge with their reputations and integrity firmly intact.

Labour supporters would be well advised to follow the mature and measured leadership of Dan Wilson who has commented:  “No bitterness here. The Green campaign was well won and I offer my sincere congratulations to Caroline and the Green team. I think it’s also worth noting too that no bitterness is coming out of Nancy’s core campaign team or from Nancy herself. I strongly disassociate myself from any comments that don’t show grace in defeat. But yes, Labour in Brighton Pavilion has lots of reflection to do and plenty of decisions to make. Best done quietly, and in private, over the next few weeks and months, I think. Looking ahead to next May, we must crystallise our vision for Brighton, run bravura, positive campaigns and make sure we’re rooted firmly in our communities. Negative comments laced with bitterness don’t help us much. I’d say we’re down but not out. Not yet. And again, best wishes to Brighton’s new Green MP, Caroline Lucas”.

Next year in the local elections I hope we can avoid the ‘numbers game’.  The Green Party is in the ascendency, Labour has its work cut out to recover,  I hope both parties will put forward positive visions for Brighton and Hove and let the voters decide which vision they want.

Can the Green Party follow where Caroline Lucas is leading? I have my doubts.

What next for the Green Party? Having made its historic breakthrough by electing Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavilion as its first Westminster MP, it needs to decide where it is now heading.

In Caroline Lucas the Greens have a photogenic, telegenic superstar, highly, highly competent with a single-minded determination to succeed. She has taken the first steps to make her party electable.  Gone are their Principle Speakers, in is a single Leader (her). Environmental issues are treated as equally important and intrinsically linked with the economy and social justice.

But is the Green Party a one woman show?  At the moment, yes, and Caroline and her immediate team must enjoy every moment of this amazing victory.  But the Green Party needs to ensure that it has more, many more, equally impressive individuals. Sadly, some of the Green candidates left a bit to be desired, and the Party did not make the hoped for breakthrough in Lewisham or Norwich.  And there are some policies that some activists hold on to as if they were in possession of the Holy Grail.  For example, the issue of drugs, and decriminalisation in particular,  threatened to upset Caroline’s campaign over the last weekend.  The Greens great strength, of not whipping its councillors, could prove to be its undoing.

Locally, the Greens have an immediate opportunity to build on this success.  Just as the election of Alex Phillips last year provided momentum for the campaign in Brighton Pavilion, so too could Caroline’s election be the springboard for the Greens targeting Brighton and Hove City Council in next year’s elections.

What do they have to do? Recruit, recruit, recruit.  Do so on the back of Caroline’s election. Don’t be passive, get out there.  Get 200 activists out in each of the next four weeks.  Visit every home in Brighton Pavilion and in target wards in Brighton Kemptown and Hove.  I would expect a ‘thank you’ leaflet or letter from Caroline through my door within the week.  Get a street contact in every street in each target ward.  Make sure that the Party’s 13 councillors are seen from now until May 5th 2011 out and about.  Some are incredibly hard working, but some don’t inspire too much confidence.  The campaign for the City Council starts now.

With Caroline Lucas in Parliament, and a Green-controlled Brighton and Hove City Council, that would make very interesting politics.

I write this as a non-Green Party member, historically a Labour supporter, but one who didn’t like New Labour, mistrusts Mandelson, opposes Trident, wishes to see an alternative to cuts, cuts, cuts.  I am someone who is looking to be inspired.  Caroline Lucas did it.  But can her party follow where she has led?

Labour’s lacklustre performance in Hove and Kemptown could cost it dear

Christopher Hawtree accuses me of underestimating Celia Barlow in Hove after I predicted a Tory win. He writes “She has been about a good deal the past few years. I am not hearing any great enthusiasm for the Tories but people do mention her. The LibDem vote in Hove could be the key factor”.

I sincerely hope that I am wrong and that Celia triumphs once again. I agree she has been a good constituency MP but the size of her majority means that the slightest swing against Labour will see her defeated.

Christopher is also right to say that the Lib Dems could be the key factor.  It would not be the first time that a no-hope campaign by the Lib Dems lets the Tories in.  This is why this blog has consistently called for tactical voting in Hove for Celia Barlow and the Labour Party.

Unfortunately the Labour campaign in Hove is weak.  Celia, for all her hard work, has not galvanised her supportrs (unlike Nancy Platts in Brighton Pavilion who has a bunch of eager supporters willing to turn out in all weathers – even today!).

A Labour defeat in Brighton Pavilion will be in spite of Nancy Platts and her campaign, not because of it.

I had lunch with a Labour activist in Hove the other day.  He decided some time ago to work for Simon Burgess in Brighton Kemptown rather than in Hove.  But that campaign itself has failed to ignite the imagination and he has done little at the very time that all hands are needed in Kemptown.

So I stand by my prediction that the Tories will win Hove, not becaue they deserve to but because of the failure of Labour in that constituency.

Unless Labour gets its act together in Brighton and Hove, the City Council elections next year could be a straight fight between the Tories and the Greens.

Today’s Tory Party remains remains anti-environment, anti-Europe, anti-gay, pro-rich, pro-bankers, and pro-toff.

What an interteresting time at the meeting of Brighton and Hove City Council on Thursday evening. At last the three opposition parties are co-operating to defeat the shortsighted policies of the Tories (while not establishing a formal alliance).

As for the Tories, apart from Mary Mears, the Tories sounded hollow, out of date and lacking in imagination.  Even Mary sounded a but of a whinger with her ‘we were elected to run the City, they didn’t vote for your alliance’  type whinge.  She has no choice now but to reintroduce a consultative style of leadership that builds a consensus.  The alternative is more seven hour meetings filled with division.  This could be a disaster for the City, but great for the bloggers!  It remains to see if Mary can put the interest of the smooth administration of the City above party political considerations.

Fantastic news about a possible congestion charge.  Poor old Geoffrey Theobald was left singing from his well-thumbed hymn sheet, not realising that the tune has changed.  And that is the problem for the Tories.  David Cameron may say that it is a new Conservative Party, but its grass roots and many of its councillors (not to mention many leading MP’s) are stuck in an anti-environmentalist mind set.  It must be embarassing for the likes of Chuck Vere who is so clearly out of step with the majority in her Party.  Will she come out in favour of a congestion charge for Brighton and Hove?  Will she denounce those with their heads buried in the sand (like Geoffrey Theobald) on environmental issues and who want a free for all on traffic.  Will Chuck herself pledge to use public transport during the run up to and during the campaign (both in and around Brighton as well as her commute from south London?

The loony right of the Tories (the majority of the Party) remains anti-environment, anti-Europe, even anti-gay.  It remains pro-rich, pro-bankers, and pro-toff.

Labour is behaving like bad losers, undemocratic, and close to the Tories

I angered Labour friends during the Goldsmid by-election when I said that Labour activists preferred a Tory win to a victory for the Green candidate, Alex Phillips. Alex’s victory resulted in parity between Labour and the Greens on Brighton and Hove City Council.

Now Labour, once again, are siding with the Tories over the allocation of Committee places.  The Greens asked for, and have every reason to expect, an increased share of positions on scrutiny panels.  But Labour councillors joined with the Tories to denythe Greens the allocation that would reflect the wishes opf the people of Brighton and Hove, expressed through the ballot box.

This action by Labour and their Conservative colleagues is a disgrace.  Green Convenor, Bill Randall, is right when he says that this will not go unnoticed by the people of the City.  Labour is a declining force in Brighton and Hove, and actions such as this will not help the Party in the general election as it comes across as undemocrtatioc, bad losers, and closer to the Tories than to the Greens, a very real and attractive alternative to those on the left.

No Green / Labour Pact, thank goodness

It’s official.  There will be no Green / Labour / Lib Dem pact to form an administration on Brighton and Hove City Council.

This blog, on 21st July, urged the Greens not to form an alliance with Labour.  I wrote: “Why on earth would the Greens get into bed with their arch rivals when they are hoping to beat Labour in Brighton Pavilion thus achieving their biggest success ever by having Caroline Lucas elected? What should happen is the abolition of the Cabinet system at Brighton and Hove City Council which must be the least democratic of all the options available.

“The City should be run by all councillors, not a select few who do not enjoy the majority support in the City. The electorate have not given a mandate to any party and therefore the important decisions should be taken by full Council. It may well mean that councillors having to meet more often, but whoever said that democracy was easy?”

Typically, Labour leader Gill Mitchell has attacked the Greens for not wishing to compromise their beliefs, saying that in the real world real politics is full of compromises. Green group convenor Bill Randall said that the Greens had decided that they could better serve the City by championing Green policies as a free, stand-alone group.

What I want to see from Gill Mitchell is a vision for 2011 onwards, what Labour would do if it regained control of the City Council (at present most unlikely). I want to be inspired. I want her to apologise for the failures of the last Labour administration and for her to develop a wide coalition of interests, as Labour did in the mid 1980’s, that will bring diverse groups together. That is the challenge for Labour (and for that matter, the Greens also).

Goldsmid Result Changes Brighton & Hove Political Landscape

The obvious impact of the Green victory in Goldsmid Ward is the loss of overall control on Brighton and Hove City Council. For the Greens it provided their first ever Councillor in Hove and the first time the Party has won a seat off the Conservatives. Neil Harding provides a good summary of the impact of the result on the City Council.

In the longer term it provides huge momentum for the Greens in the twelve months before the General Election. For Labour it is a disaster. It reaffirms that Labour is a party in decline in Brighton and Hove, now firmly established as the third party in the City. They lack credibility, a party associated with defeat after defeat, heading for three losses in the City in the General Election. Ironically, it isn’t a disaster for the Conservatives who had a credible result even though they lost their seat in a by-election caused by the unacceptable actions of their former councillor, Paul Lainchbury. Unlike Labour, they were not humilated.

This was the worst result possible for Labour. Labour Group Leader, Gill Mitchell said last night “The Conservatives are fatally wounded and they will not be able to get anything through the council”. To describe the Tories as fatally wounded is pure nonsense and demonstrates the mindset of Labour, still seeing the battle lines as Labour v Conservatives.

There is anger at both parties, but most particularly against the party of government. Mary Mears, a most perceptive politician, has already identified the Greens as the main opponents to the Tories. She dismissed the result as a protest vote on national issues but was quick to attack Green policies, saying that they have not properly costed their programme. That is, indeed a challenge for the Greens.

But for today, the Greens, and Councillor Alex Phillips in particular, should enjoy the moment. If the Green Party is to make the next breakthrough at parliamentary level, the hard work begins tomorrow!