The Boundary Commission, Brighton Pavilion and Caroline Lucas

Earlier this week the Boundary Commission announced new proposals for the redrawing of Parliamentary constituencies. It has been suggested in the Argus that Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas would have been defeated had the last election been fought on these proposed boundaries.

I find the latest proposals without logic, with Regency ward being moved into the neighbouring Hove constituency and Moulsecoomb and Bevendean wards becoming part of Brighton Pavilion.

Should Labour or Conservative activists be taking heart from this latest set of proposals, they should think again. It will take more than gerrymandering to remove Caroline Lucas. Since the 2010 general election, Ms Lucas has increased her personal support, notwithstanding the current difficulties of the Green administration on Brighton and Hove City Council.

The last general election was a very tight affair with three exceptional women candidates, Nancy Platts for Labour, Charlotte Vere for the Conservatives and Caroline Lucas for the Greens. I got to know all three during the election campaign and came to like and admire them all. Any one of them would have made a first-rate constituency MP. As it was, it was Caroline Lucas who came out triumphant, and as the sitting MP she now has a significant advantage going into 2015.

One of Labour’s main strategies in 2010 was to repeat its claim that Caroline Lucas could not win the seat and that the only way to beat the Conservatives was to vote Labour. A large number of people accepted this line yet Caroline Lucas went on to win the seat. Next time, this false tactical vote argument will not work for Labour and those people who felt cheated by having voted Labour when they may well have voted Green, will vote for the sitting Member of Parliament who has done nothing but strengthened her personal reputation and following.

It would take an excessively unpleasant campaign by Labour or the Conservatives to unseat Caroline Lucas. Should they try such an approach they will lose further support since politicians who behave in such a manner are increasingly rejected by the electorate, particularly against a candidate with such obvious integrity.

Having met Caroline Lucas on a few occasions (I don’t get out much) I have been very impressed by her modesty, diligence and ability. She won’t take anything for granted, which is wise, but should this week’s headlines get her down, she should take heart from assurances of the very widespread and growing support for her.

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Highlighting the commitment of Mike Weatherley MP to the people of Brighton Pavilion

From time to time my Labour and Green friends say to me: “You know what, Bappy, you hardly ever comment of the local Conservatives. Are you sure you are not a closet Tory by any chance?” If the truth be told, the answer is …. no.

So I thought I would reflect today on the work of Mike Weatherley, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Brighton Pavilion. (Shurley shum mishtake – Ed).

Now, a great myth of our time is that Mike is MP for Hove, something the Argus has consistently reported. Now there is evidence to support my claim. I had a look at the website of The People’s Mike and carried out a forensic analysis of the press releases he has put out for the two months of June and July. I looked at how many related to Hove, and how many to Brighton Pavilion.

Of the 41 press releases, just 5 were directly about Hove (travellers in Hangleton, a local restaurant being commended in a House of Commons curry competition, the Olympic torch visiting Hove, opposing development at Toad’s Hole Valley, and a petition to do with Medina House).

There were four other press releases that indirectly related to Hove (experience of commuters at Victoria Station, warning about a Council Tax scam, a call for better maps at bus stops, and a parliamentary motion supporting local shops). But each of these equally applies to Brighton Pavilion.

And then there is his fascination of all things Brighton Pavilion. He has put our 8 press releases about Brighton Pavilion – 60% more than those put out about Hove. He talks about the Brighton Toy Museum, travellers at Horsdean (Patcham), Jubilee protests in central Brighton, the Horsdean travellers site (again), a trip to Brighton Museum, Portas Money for London Road, the eviction of squatters in Middle Street, and a government initiative supporting Malpass Meats Direct (and the Big Lemon in Brighton Kemptown).

The remaining 28 press releases either have nothing directly to do with Hove (or Brighton Pavilion). So move over, Caroline Lucas, and stop pretending that you are the duly elected representative of the people of Brighton Pavilion.

Students effect elections, housing and jobs

Since the local elections there has been much comment about the influence of students on the election. In wards like Hollingdean and Stanmer, the Greens were able to organise the student vote, winning two seats from Labour.

Some have commented that it isn’t right that students who are temporary residents in the City can vote in their home town and in Brighton and Hove. In particular some say that it is wrong that the student vote in 2011 will effect how the City is run well after this generation of students have moved on.

My view is that a lively student population enriches the City, and of course they should be allowed to vote. Part of the problem for the old parties is that they have neglected student voters for many years. Caroline Lucas (thanks to the efforts of Allie Cannell) was able to draw on the student vote, ensuring her election.

Nancy Platts, in an interesting post on the blog Southern Front, comments that it is Labour’s lack of vision damaged her electoral chances against Caroline Lucas: “Brighton is a university town with a history of political activism, especially at Sussex University. Student numbers can swing an election in Brighton and tuition fees were a gift to the Greens. How hard can it be to decide where to place your cross on election day when there are three political positions presented; higher tuition fees from the Tories, a free university education from the Greens or, well, er…a ‘review’ from Labour. Did we forget how to do politics – why would any student vote for a review? The Greens consistently targeted the student vote and increased turnout from the universities.” Her post is well worth a read.

Caroline Penn says that she has “nothing against students. I’m sure most of us here were students once. It’s wrong to blame them as you say for many of the issues that have arisen. While friends have had issues with student parties, a more responsible landlord (and better university liaison) should deal with that.”

Craig Turton comments on the impact of students on the local employment market: “Between Brighton and Sussex universities we have one of the largest rates of post graduate student settlement anywhere outside of London but in a relatively small geographical area. This can be beneficial for employers (ie; a virtually permanent pool of highly educated workers) but can equally create problems (ie; competition from graduates leaves local people with few or no educational qualifications at a disadvantage even for jobs not requiring a degree. Without wishing to appear facetious, we probably have the most over qualified call centre workers and bar staff in England).”

Students are a fact of life, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. Where have I heard that before? They student body causes problems, enriches our community, puts huge pressure on housing, and creates unfair competition in the jobs market. But Brighton wouldn’t be Brighton without the students. If you don’t like them, move to Worthing!

Announcing the outstanding candidate, with youth and good looks, for Hove 2015

From the reaction to yesterday’s post, it appears that the campaign in Hove in 2015 is already capturing the imagination. There is speculation about the Labour candidate, the advantage of women candidates, and the merits of experience over youth.

Councillor Christopher Hawtree agrees that Hove is an interesting prospect: “The subject of the Hove constituency is certainly more galvanising than a gathering of the Strategic Partnership. A point not made by the blogger is that, very winnable, Hove could attract the attention of candidates from elsewhere. Meanwhile, in studying it, I think I have found the key factor in a close-run Election, but am hardly going to say so here.”

Clive agrees that Mike Weatherley could be vulnerable: “1800 majority and 37% of the vote does not equal hard to shift, unless Argentina invade the Falklands again. It is very easy to exaggarate the effect of an individual MP’s efforts at social work.” Perhaps so, Clive, but Mike has already impressed with his careful nurturing of the constituency and he has a populist appeal.

So what can councillor Chris have discovered? He is right that Hove, as a winnable seat could attract candidates from beyond the city. If Labour or the Greens did so, it would be a mistake. There is much speculation that Labour is looking to Simon Burgess.

Luke Walter (who rumour has it may have Green leanings), writes of the likely Labour candidate: “For once, I agree with Zombie, a female candidate would stand a much better chance for Labour. However, given that the Kemptown seat is an all-woman shortlist (AWS) and Hove isn’t, Burgess only has one option (unless he can persuade the NEC to keep Pavilion open to all, though, I doubt he wants to stand there). Therefore, Hove it will be for Mr. Burgess unless the local party opts for someone else. Given Warren Morgan’s own friendship with Burgess and the East Brighton grip over Labour’s constituency parties in the city, I imagine the local Labour selection for Hove will be without a credible challenge to Burgess.”

But some feel that a different brand of candidate should be chosen. I suggested female and young in the case of the Greens. Likewise, Zombie proposes female and young for Labour: “A Green candidate in place now (probably Alex Phillips) could start to build a challenge. This could become momentum given a fair wind from B & H council’s activities or the kiss of death. Labour can help the Greens by selecting someone mediocre from outside the area, or can select someone with potential like the Benn girl who stood in Shoreham in 2010 or perhaps Clare Calder. Leaving selection late will help the Green challenger. In any event the Green Alex Phillips lookalike will need to show she is best placed to challenge Weatherly well beforehand for the Lab vote to evaporate.”

Zombie urges Labour not to waste time: “Labour would do well to select their Alex Phillips now and establish their own campaigning radical credentials. They might then squash the Green Alex as the clear non-Tory alternative.”

Finally, it appears that I am getting under Clive’s skin. He writes: “I do find the blogger’s repetitive promotion of a select few annoying, because it seems to be based on so little in the way of substance.” But Clive, I am totally devoid of substance! But give me some credit – I say it as I see it, and I am not often wrong. I predicted Alex Phillips’ Goldsmid by-election victory when others did not, I called Brighton Pavilion correctly, and I was within a seat for both Labour and the Greens this May. I also said that my friend Warren Morgan would romp home and that Brian Fitch would regain his seat. You are right, Clive, I concentrate on the select few.

But I do agree with Clive on his final point: “There is a wider, national malaise in our politics too, in the elevation of (relative) youth and (relative) good looks above substance.”

So to add to this national malaise, there is just one person who has the youth and good looks necessary to beat Mike Weatherley. Yes, it is your ever so humble Blogger.

Labour is no closer than ever to understanding how to respond to the Greens

The Labour Party in Brighton and Hove is in an unenviable position. Its group of councillors (now officially the Labour and Co-operative Group) has made a decision not to approach the Greens about a formal coalition.

Already some party activists and councillors are already making unrealistic predictions about 2015. Rob Macey has written: “we need to set a high bar for the greens. they have got what they have always wanted but I predict that this will lance the boil and give us the opportunity, if we sort ourselves out, to take full control back next time around.”

There is no way that Labour will come anywhere near taking control next time. The next locals are likely to take place on the same day as the general election in 2015. Caroline Lucas will be re-elected with a thumping majority, with Labour coming in a distant third. (It is not just me who thinks this, but one leading member of the local Laour Party has written “With the win in Withdean as well as those in Preston Park and Hollingdean & Stanmer Caroline Lucas is now well placed to achieve a five-figure majority in 2015.”)

Labour has misled the electorate in two elections running (that only Labour could beat the Tories in Brighton Pavilion in 2010, and that only Labour could form an administration in 2011 – has Laour sacked the genius who insisted on this tosh?).

Yet Labour activists are blinded to reality. Christine Simpson has asked: “I am still not sure why their (the Greens) message was more believable than ours to many people in different parts of the city, except that they can put themselves forward as the non political party with clean green hands.” It might be the freshness of the Greens but Labour’s obsessive attacks on Caroline Lucas make the party look like bad losers, and many people are delighted that the City has produced the first Green MP. Caroline Lucas certainly hasn’t betrayed the faith people had in her and her reputation goes from strength to strength.

Labour on the other hand remains tainted by the last government. I have posted recently about the Labour Party welcoming David Milliband to Brighton – a very big mistake which no one in Labour has yet defended. Compared to the Greens, Labour appears tainted by Iraq, privatisation, university fees, etc. And now Labour activists are getting excited about Blue Labour. The Greens in Brighton and Hove will be laughing all the way to the next elections and beyond.

Labour needs to wipe the slate clean. Perhaps Gill Mitchell could apologise for Labour’s misleading statements on its election material. That would be a start. At least Labour should say now it won’t mislead the electorate in future elections. Craig Turton is one of the few Labour politicians with the necessary understanding of the situation: “I’ve said before that criticising the Greens is the political equivalent of clubbing seals and our experience on the doorstep has proved this has been the case so far as voters simply don’t believe us.”

But the immediate dilemma for Labour is how it responds to the Green administration. In private one former Labour councillor pleaded with her former colleagues regarding a coalition: “don’t take the LibDems’ role to the Green Party. Let them mess it up!” Now that sentiment is not something most people in Brighton want to hear. It is in the best interests of the City and its residents that the new administration is successful. And Labour needs to support the Greens to be successful.

This is the unenviable position for Labour councillors. If they vote against the administration (ie. with the Tories), their reputation will plunge further and they will rightly be criticised by many, including this Blogger. If they abstain on crucial votes the question will be asked “what is the point of Labour councillors” (abstaining on the budget did not help an already wounded party). And if they vote with the Greens, the Greens will get the credit because they and nor Labour are the administration.

UKIP set to take the local elections by storm (actually a light breeze rustling the leaves)

So there we have it.  It is not the Switch to Fitch movement, nor Christopher Hawtree standing in several seats simultaneously, but UKIP that is set to take Brighton and Hove by storm.  Well, maybe a gentle breeze.  The party is rumoured to have seven candidates (so far ….) to stand in May’s local elections, a candidate in Patcham, St Peter’s and North Laine (I am reliably informed that Labour’s Adrian Morris “a great guy and a real supporter of your community” isn’t standing for UKIP), and Wish.  There will be three UKIP candidates in Rottingdean Coastal including Paul Perrin (the UKIP candidate in Hove at the general election).

Nigel Carter, the UKIP candidate in Brighton Pavilion last May, is standing in Withdene, or is it Hollingbury (sic), or maybe Woodingdean.  Perhaps somewhere else.  They haven’t yet decided.

Paul Perrin told me: “We are in the process of setting up a local branch/association, our only resource is goodwill of local supporters so we are spread a bit thin and rushed …but ….  I think it is safe to say that we are really just local people who think the UK should be putting UK citizens first, and think the local council should be putting its residents first.”  I think I am quite safe in saying that, on that platform, UKIP will not be forming an administration in May or even holding the balance of power.  But their arrival (if it can be called that) adds a bit of colour, especially in Rottingdean Coastal which is fast becoming a four-way marginal – Labour’s Harris Fitch, UKIP’s Paul Perrin, Christopher Hawtree of the Greens are all confident of unseating Mary Mears.  Be afraid Mary Mears, be …. well …. a tad amused. 

But have I got it wrong? ‘rottingdean’ says I should check my sources: “The Lido mob, UKIP or Mr Pickwick might not be the only surprises in Rottingdean, something far bigger is being rumoured to unseat Ms Mears.”  I’ve heard nothing.  I think Mary is safe as houses.

Why the Greens are likely to get the better of Labour in May’s local elections in Brighton and Hove

I’m always amused by the reaction some of my posts receive.  If I criticise the Greens, I can anticipate righteous indignation from Green activists from far and wide. If, as I did yesterday, criticise Labour (on this occasion for lacking a vision for Brighton) I am accused of being a Green supporter.

Anyone who regularly reads this blog will know I dish it out to both Labour and the Greens.  I accept that it is not necessarily in equal measure, and that I have been more critical of Labour than the Greens.  I do this because I think Labour deserves it more. But that doesn’t make me a Green.  I hope that I might be seen as a critical friend of both Labour and the Greens.

Many in Brighton and Hove who see themselves as being on the left of British politics, are in a privileged position of having choice when casting their vote.  In many parts of the City a Green vote is certainly not a wasted vote.  Neither is a Labour vote.  Labour activists are mistaken to point to Oldham East and Saddleworth as evidence of the Greens in decline.  They are equally wrong to say that the result across the City last May point to Labour coming fourth and therefore Labour is the challenger to the Tories in May.  In Brighton Kemptown and Hove, many Green supporters will have voted Labour (as I encouraged in this blog).  In local elections voters are more willing to vote for less traditional parties, such as the Greens.

In Brighton Pavilion, voters will have far greater confidence to vote Green given the result last May.  Labour did some damage to itself by saying that Caroline Lucas had no chance of winning.  Voters will be less inclined to believe scare tactics in future.

When I criticise Labour it is not because I am anti-Labour or pro-Green.  I offer constructive criticism.  Labour needs to articulate a vision for the City so that a floating voter of the left, like me, can decide how to vote.  I will cast my votes based on three considerations:

1. Which of Labour or the Greens is articulating the better vision for the City, and which party’s policies do I prefer. (In this regard, the Greens are winning.  Labour must get its act together to make the choice a bit tougher)

2. Which candidates (there will be two or three fielded by each party in each ward) are most likely to beat the Tories.  Both Labour and Greens should take care not to make unfounded claims (see my blog Labour more guilty than the Greens of misleading the voters of Brighton Pavilion of 9th May 2010).

3. How impressive the individual candidates are (rather there are certain individuals I would be reluctant to vote for as I wouldn’t want to see them elected as a councillor).

In some seats voters will have a proper choice between Labour and the Greens (Goldsmid, Preston Park, Queen’s Park, Hollingdean and Stanmer, possibly Regency although Jason Kitcat will poll very well). As things stand, the Greens don’t have the edge, they have a sizeable gap.  I’m not sure whether Labour is capable of bridging that gap at present.