Cuts to Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, by Jean Calder

Visitors to Brighton’s Museum and Art Gallery have dropped by over a half since introduction of a £5 entry fee for non-residents. Just 33,000 visitors went to the Museum and Art Gallery between 5th May and 5th August. This compares to 71,000 in 2014 and 87,000 in 2013.

It was no surprise to me to read of this reduction. In May, I wrote in the Argus, of my horror at the decision to introduce fees, given that, in London and in almost all other parts of the country, such basic services are free. I also highlighted how difficult the council had made it for residents to gain ‘free’ entry, by requiring them, at each visit, to queue, provide proof of residence and be checked against a computer list. 

At the time, I thought the queues for residents were a glitch in the system and that very soon the Council would allow residents to move freely in and out – for example, by showing a library card. However, no changes were made. In subsequent weeks, I queued a few times, then gave up. In the 40 years I’ve lived in Brighton, I’ve probably visited the museum on average about four or five times a month. Now I don’t go at all.

Back in May, I had no idea the Council planned to introduce charges. Still less did I know that, before making this decision, the Council officials predicted that a 50 – 75% reduction in visitors would result. I find it extraordinary that Council officials and elected members – whose job is to protect our heritage – proceeded with this policy in the full knowledge that many thousands fewer people would benefit from facilities previous generations have taken for granted. I recall no publicity about this and no debate.

Councillors recently warned council officials against using falling attendances to justify reducing opening hours. This immediately made me fear that this was exactly what was planned – particularly as I was subsequently contacted by an anonymous informant who told me that council plans were well advanced to put the museum service and art gallery out to tender and to close the much-loved Hove Library. An Argus investigation has now confirmed this – almost certainly well before the Council intended the information to get out. 

My cynical soul tells me that it’s a classic tactic to deliberately run public services down, suggest they are ‘failing’, then use this as an excuse to cut them and even sell valuable assets, while putting potentially profitable services out to tender to private companies – often leaving insufficient time for the public to examine proposals and mount protests. 

I fully understand that the museums and art services need to make £200,000 savings this financial year. However, this is a tiny amount when set against the millions that the Council this year failed to collect in parking fees. Coin Co International (CCI), the company contracted to collect the fees, collapsed earlier this year owing the council £3.2 million. The loss was not insured and the Council is believed to be unlikely to recoup more than £25,000.

CCI was paid almost £300,000 a year to collect more than £11 million cash from Brighton and Hove’s parking meters and £8 million cash from Council offices and schools. The company was allowed to hold the funds for up to ten days, enabling it to earn interest in addition to its fees to the Council. The money should have been paid into a separate account by CCI, but was not. The debt was allowed to build up over several months and at one point reached £4.7 million. Little action seems to have been taken to protect the Council. This is despite the fact the council’s previous cash collections contractor, Estate Security Southern, also collapsed.

There are two things which strike me about these events. The first is that, even in a time of austerity and threatened cuts, officials seem not to be held accountable for catastrophic loss of public funds. The second is that serious reductions to key public services have been planned in secret, without any regard for public consultation. This is no way to run local democracy.

I call on councillors of all parties and committees to act to protect our heritage and key services and to consult fully and in public. Above all, I ask them to realise Council officials are the public’s servants not its masters – and to hold them to account when they lose our money and threaten our services.

An alternative view to the Brighton and Hove Independent 100

The Brighton and Hove Independent last week (30th May) published a list of the “100 people who make our city what it is”. The Editorial Director, Greg Hadfield has said he “expects – and even hopes – that almost everyone will disagree” with the list.

Let me be the first. There are the predictable names but it is who Greg has missed that demands comment. For example, why is your Humble Blogger not included? No politician can hope for recognition and success without endorsement from this awesome blog.

It is all very well to have Martin Harris from the bus company, but what about former Mayor, Brian Fitch, who singlehandedly, in a career stretching back to when Methuselah was a boy in short trousers, has saved bus route after bus route, most recently the Number 5, from being callously axed without a second thought to those isolated on our estates. What hope is there for them now that Brian has moved to Eastbourne?

More seriously, in the media section, there is no mention of anyone from the Brighton Argus. I just can’t imagine why not! Adam Trimingham, at least, should be there.

Three politicians from each of the main political parties are listed although the Green, Major Druitt, is listed because of his business influence, and Katy Bourne appears to have transcended her party political affiliations to be listed under Public Services.

But how does one make a judgement on who has made a contribution to make our city what it is. When reviewing the list, I was hard pressed to say for over half of them one thing they have done to make or change the City. Merely holding a position, elected or otherwise, doesn’t mean that you have helped to shape a place.

A better list would be who, over the last 25 years or more, has helped to make Brighton and Hove what it is today. Who is the modern day Herbert Carden, Margaret Hardy, Lewis Cohen, Dorothy Stringer, John Morley, Denis Hobden, Tony Hewison, Asa Briggs, or Richard Attenborough? Their influence on the City remains even though they are no longer with us.

I could mention people like Linda Pointing, Dani Ahrens and Melita Dennett, who (amongst others) were pioneers in the movement for lesbian and gay rights and recognition, and opposition to Section 28. Or Shirley West who was, for many years, the backbone of the Women’s Centre. Jess Wood from Allsorts continues this work, particularly with children and young people.

For fifty years Patricia Norman was central to the Friends Centre and to its adult education arm. Into her nineties she continued with a group for pensioners run from the Friends Centre, as well as being involved in the work of Brighton Housing Trust for over 45 years, most recently as its Life President.

Kate Page has been at the Resources Centre for almost 35 years, helping countless community organisations shape their communities. And Faith Matyszak provided the backbone of BME services throughout the 1980’s, 90’s and noughties.

Local domestic violence services were saved by a group including the above-mentioned Shirley West and Jean Calder, who subsequently became the first Director of the Women’s Refuge Project (now Rise). Jean later led the successful campaign to save St Peters Church as a place of worship, alongside Janet King, Isabel Turner and others. (Jean now has the honour to be a regular contributor to this esteemed blog.)

Interfaith activities were championed by Tehm Framroze, and now by Anthea Ballam. They should be on the list. Andrew Manson-Brailsford and Ian Chisnall continue to make the Church relevant in the community. Rabbi Elli Sarah does likewise for Progressive Jewish community.

While he will no doubt write a strongly worded letter against his inclusion, Tony Greenstein should be included for being a public irritant of gargantuan proportions but, more so, for being one of the most consistent anti-fascist in Brighton and Hove.

What about the campaigners who helped to close down the Dolphinarium? Or Duncan Blinkhorn and Mark Strong for getting the needs of cyclists acknowledged.

Mushtaq Ahmed was pivotal in establishing Sussex CCC as a force to be reckoned with. Dick Knight could represent all those who helped secure a stadium fit for the 21st century at Falmer.

Michael Chowen, a local businessman and employer, has been a philanthropist with a particular commitment to women’s services. Peter Field has had a long history in charitable work, not least in nurturing and developing housing services for homeless people.

I could go on and on, and I usually do, but those named above would be 25 of my 100.

The Campaign Trail – Highs and Lows, by Cllr Emma Daniel

This item was first posted on Cllr Emma Daniel’s own blog on 26th May 2015. She has kindly agreed to allow us to repost it on the Brighton Politics Blog.

It’s been ages since I blogged because campaigning took up every drop of physical and mental and emotional energy I could find. The by-election was quite time limited and, though like a bomb going off in my life, it was in effect a sprint. This last few months has been hitting the wall in the marathon and keeping going, taking a massive amount of optimism and hope to do so. I have never done this before. My colleagues have done it, and won and lost and got back up and done it again. I think my admiration for those with this experience couldn’t get any higher. Nor can my admiration for those with no election experience at all who rose to the occasion. There is nothing like it. If you haven’t volunteered for a political party I genuinely can’t recommend it enough.

I was chased out of a block of flats by a man calling me a war criminal and a paedo. I sprained my knee jumping down entrance steps as a big dog jumped out at me … canvassing with an existing fear of dogs is an emotional resilience mountain, I can tell you. (Yes, I know your dog just growls because he is being friendly, honest!)

I was told that the Greens would have been fine on the council if only those LABOUR MEANIES had supported them and that the i360 was ours (!!) also Valley Gardens (!!) and I mostly sucked that stuff up with good humour because I am good humoured. It goes with the territory. I did once, get a bit snappy with a morris man though which was probably the campaign nadir for me.

Overwhelmingly, though, people were LOVELY. Really and truly. Many were really supportive of political activists and I am lucky to work in one of the most politically knowledgeable and engaged wards in the city … which makes it really good to canvass.

In Hanover and Elm Grove, the campaign was a Labour vs Green council and parliament battleground, though there are a strong and loyal cohort of voters for other parties. It was good natured and I particularly commend David Gibson for his good humour and gentle nature displayed during both elections I fought with him. And next time, I do hope to bring at least one more Labour councillor with me. If we do a fair job on council I think that is possible.

The Parliamentary campaign was less good humoured, with many voters and activists decrying our candidate, Purna Sen, for even standing against Caroline Lucas. I felt this was unnecessary. Surely better to win the argument rather than be handed the seat? And fair play to her, she increased her majority. Our Purna is now working on global women’s issues for the UN and based in New York for the year. A fair and just tribute to her skills and experience. I hope she returns as a parliamentary candidate in future as parliament will be the richer for her participation.

On polling day I ended up sun burnt again! When will I ever learn? But we did an amazing job in Hanover and Elm Grove with a much more politically engaged and genuine relationship with the voters on the small council estates in the ward and an increased membership which just keeps going.

And then it was dark and I was stumbling home with very stiff legs when I saw the exit polls on twitter. It was like being run over. How had we lost the argument nationally so badly? Now there are endless articles explaining it of course – we weren’t left enough … we weren’t centre ground enough. But the thing is, we did lose the argument nationally.

A few days later and we were at the count with new Labour MP Peter Kyle for Hove (a massively cheering feature of the national results) and the former PPC for Kemptown, the lovely Nancy Platts, who despite her own grief at her narrow loss in the parliamentary elections came to stand by the local candidates.

On polling day, and at the count, I was convinced that the Caroline Lucas surge had wiped out the good work we had done in Hanover and Elm Grove on our council campaigning as I spoke to many voters who never normally vote who were going to vote for Caroline and had absolutely no idea there was even a council election on. But I held on and that was absolutely amazing. I am so grateful for the campaign volunteers, the party support and the support of the ward residents who do really care about who runs the council and provides them with a voice.

Going to a count is probably the most amazing and most brutal experience of my life. Seeing experienced and decent councillors wiped out, seeing talented colleagues voted in. I think I hugged everybody. I can’t really describe the count … the amazing officers plugging away with the ballot papers, the scrum of party activists and candidates checking the count and calculating results as they came out. The tears. I cried. And the jubilation. I think it’s the closest I will come to understanding football emotions.

Going through that process it’s clear that the voters of this city haven’t felt that one party has won the argument, and that many vote for councillors they personally believe in. But, they have marginally supported a Labour vision for the city but also giving us the message that they want us to be collaborative with other parties. To seek consensus where we can. And to consider the views of residents in developing schemes and projects.

Random reflections on being a candidate, by Graham Cox

It’s a cold, wet January day in London and I have been summonsed to the ‘war room’ in Conservative HQ. It’s my turn to meet the legendary Aussie, Lynton ‘barnacles on the boat’ Crosby, and hear my fate.
Having only been selected as the Hove Conservative candidate the previous July, we are one of the last target seats to have been polled by ‘Lynton.’

The previous October had seen the (Lord) Ashcroft ‘marginal’ poll for Hove, which suggested Labour were ahead but just about within reach. The bookies certainly had Labour firm favourites to regain the ‘bellwether’ Hove seat. With Mike Weatherley having been forced to stand down because of his battle with stage 3 oesophageal cancer we had no ‘incumbency factor’. Labour had picked a sensible, articulate candidate in Peter Kyle, with strong links to the Blairite pressure group, Progress, and it has to be said the advantage of matinee idol good looks. Anything better than the Ashcroft poll suggested we still had a chance though.

In his Aussie accent, and with just the occasional swear word, Lynton took me through the results. Labour were 6 points ahead but ‘don’t worry there is a margin of error of +/- 4% so it could be as close as 2%,’ said Lynton kindly.  It seemed two thirds of Hove residents did not want a Conservative Government, and more of them had heard of Peter than me.

Discussing the results afterwards over a coffee in St James St with my team (well me and my campaign manager) we comforted ourselves that maybe it really was ‘all to play for’. The residents of Hove might not want a Conservative majority Government, had barely heard of me, the margin of error might actually mean Labour were 10 points ahead but at least they were not keen on Ed Miliband for Prime Minister.

Fast-forward 4 months and its now 3 days before polling day. Weeks of door knocking, telephone calls, canvassing, surveying, hustings, media interviews and endless leaflet deliveries are nearly over.  Once again I have made my brilliant campaign manager crunch the numbers in our state of the art campaign tool ‘Vote Source’. Over 16,000 Hove residents have told us they will ‘definitely or probably’ vote Conservative. ‘Turn all them out on Thursday and pick up another 2000 we do not know about and, you know, we can win,’ was the optimistic verdict.

The rest, as they say, is history – not only did we turn out those 16,000 Conservative voters, we actually found another 4,800. Over 20,800 people voted for me, the highest Conservative vote in Hove since 1992. At least 2,000 more than even our most optimistic projections – and of course I lost.

Now the dust has settled, I have the time to listen to Test Match Special, and pen an article for the Brighton Politics Blog (no I am not saying who asked me) reflecting on the experience of being a candidate.

It really was huge honour to have been selected by local Conservatives to contest the Hove seat. I had been born here, lived in the area most of my life and was the last Police Commander before the old Hove Police Division was taken over by (sorry amalgamated with) Brighton.
Being a local councillor for Westbourne had its frustrations compared to policing, not least the petty bickering and inability to get things done, but helping local people find the way through the tortuous council bureaucracy was intensely satisfying. More than once it seemed to me that I was performing a role akin to a caring vicar, but without the religion (certainly not in Brighton anyway!)

I would probably have carried on doing that – electors permitting – had Mike not announced he would stand down. I knew he had been seriously ill but had always respected his decision to treat this as a private matter and had anticipated that now he was in remission that he would stand again. It was only because it was Hove that I put myself forward.

Despite the disappointment of the result I am so glad I did. Normal life ceased to exist for 9 months. Knocking on doors every day and speaking to people about politics and the issues which concern them is strange behaviour. I did not meet too many ‘errupters’, as my Green opponent, Christopher Hawtree, described those who did not welcome a visit from someone asking for their vote.

I particularly enjoyed canvassing in Portslade. The residents of Portslade and Mile Oak definitely felt that their part of the city was neglected and to some extent forgotten about compared to the more ‘fashionable’ parts of town. Maybe that is why even those who had no intention of voting for me were unfailingly polite. In Portslade I met many people who responded to my questions with something like ‘ I’m a Labour man, always have been, but thanks for calling and good luck.’
This contrasted somewhat with the response in the Victorian villas, newly gentrified terraced housing and grand flats of the latte drinking (with soya milk) areas of central Hove. More than once I nervously knocked on the (stripped pine) door of a £1million house, took in the Farrow and Ball wallpaper in the hallway, as the householder exclaimed, ‘I’m a senior manager in the Strategy Consultation, Coordination and Service Delivery Department at ‘x’ Council and I would not vote Conservative as long as I have a hole in my axxx,’ abruptly followed by a ringing slam.

The result in Hove actually fitted with similar results in parts of Metropolitan London (e.g. Hampstead) and interestingly Cambridge and Oxford. I never actually met the Liberal Democrat candidate for Hove, and am not sure he ever visited the seat from his home in Surrey. It was always obvious that the Liberal Democrat ‘vote’ would collapse here, and in contrast to the Midlands, southwest and more rural areas, in newly Metropolitan Hove this was always likely to benefit Labour more.

In fairness to Peter Kyle he fought an excellent campaign. It was no use me complaining about his targeting of the Brunswick and Adelaide and Goldsmid wards with a ‘vote Green and you get the Tories’ message – this was a sensible electoral tactic and I would have done exactly the same in his position.

Where I do take a certain amount of pride is in the effort we forced Labour to make in order to gain Hove. They had to throw huge amounts of resources – paid campaign staff, activists from across the country, volunteers and cash (and a state of the art office!) – directly at Hove. Every weekend, well according to social media anyway, they had over 50 people coming here canvassing. They carpet bombed the seat with national direct mail, they had banks of people telephone canvassing this seat specifically and on election day itself they had 100’s (one message on Facebook suggested they had 600 volunteers here) of people bussed in to knock up their voters.

Once they realised the fight we were putting up Progress, the Blairite pressure group, pretty much sent all their members to Hove to campaign from Christmas onwards.
We could never compete directly with this – nor indeed would it have been a wise use of resources by the Conservative Party nationally to have done so.

However our small but dedicated local team did get out and deliver and canvass like no other local team in a target seat. According to the Ashcroft polls we actually managed more voter contact than any other marginal seat being targeted by Labour.

As a result of this Labour were not able to redirect any resources from Hove to other target seats (which at one point I am assuming they been hoping to do). To some extent, using an analogy from my police days (military folk will know what I am on about) we were the ‘tethered goat.’ Labour had to expend so many resources fighting us that their big guns, their lions, could not go to other seats in the south they had hoped to win.

There may even be a reasonable case to claim that despite Hove providing the only gain for Labour in the southeast outside London, our small team here played a significant part in the overall Conservative victory.

That rather large crumb of comfort was not for me though the highlight of the campaign. That came in a marvellous hour I spent talking with a full class of year 6 pupils at Cottesmore School. The final question they asked certainly had me stumped – ‘Do you think Mr. Cox we should we return the Elgin Marbles to Greece?’ ‘Err, umm, yes possibly, may be not, waffle, Greek economy, err perhaps but I do not really know’ was the gist of my less than convincing answer. Sadly the question had come before the appearance of the Ed Stone.

What will I do next? To be honest I have no idea (all offers gratefully received). As well as enjoying the cricket, and picking the first winner of the Derby for 20 years under a majority Conservative Government, I am reading Steve Hilton’s book, ‘More Human’. It’s idealistic, probably unrealistic in places, but buried in his vision are coherent ideas, which all the Parties should at least consider. Decentralisation is a theme running though it, with proposals for 10,000 directly elected mayors.

Brighton and Hove, for all its famed vibrancy, has struggled for years under minority administrations that have as a result ceded too much power to the loud but small set of people who specialise in being against things. We have an opportunity to create a southern powerhouse in the Brighton City region, which can rival anything that is happening in Greater Manchester or Leeds. Steve Hilton, born in Brighton, for elected Mayor of our city region. That would be something I could campaign for.

First past the post or proportional representation? How about a bit of both? by Andy Winter

I have for a long time thought that local government would be an ideal place to introduce a combination of first past the post and proportional representation. It would work like this. Reduce the number of councillors to represent each ward to just one, and reduce the number of wards to 16. A further 8 seats could then be allocated on the basis of the proportion of votes cast across the city to those on party lists and, as suggested to me by Jean Calder, a further eight seats to independents voted for by the whole city.

This system would retain a constituency link, and might also encourage others to stand for election through the party lists or as independents.

Ward councillors would not be allowed to chair committees, but their priority would be to look after the interests of their constituents. They should be properly remunerated given that being a councillor is increasingly becoming a full time job. With just 32 councillors, it would be more affordable.

The current system does not allow for good governance. Currently, if the chair of housing or of planning came from, for example, Rottingdean Coastal, they couldn’t be expected to look at the merits of a housing development in Ovingdean on behalf of the city. They would, rightly, look after the interests of their constituents.

However, councillors elected from the lists would be free to take a city-wide view, and ensure that the needs of the whole city are met. They would be the chairs of committees and from their number the whole Council would elect the Leader.

Some people, who wish to represent a political party, could bring expertise and experience that would massively benefit the city but, for various reasons, they are not able to nurture a ward up to an election and for the four years afterwards.

Last week, Labour secured 35.6% of the vote in the local elections, the Conservatives 30.2%, and the Greens 26.2%. In addition to the seats won, their proportion of the vote would have given them three, three and two additional seats respectively.

As for the independents, we could see people elected from the arts, the universities, or the business community, as well as individuals with something to offer.

Forgive me if I use myself as an example. I might be able to offer something as a councillor in the areas of housing and homelessness. Currently, to stand any chance of election I would have to join a political party, become an activist, and stand for selection as a candidate. I’ve done that before. I don’t have the time or inclination to put myself through that again.

Many others, far better qualified than I, are excluded from serving because of the current system. The City is the poorer for that.

(This item first appeared in the Brighton and Hove Independent on 15th May 2015)

The Return of the Brighton Politics Blog 

The Brighton Politics Blog was published anonymously between 2009 and 2012 when its primary contributer, Andy Winter, accidently outed himself to Charlotte ‘Chuck’ Vere.

Following a period of intense frustration over the election period, and unrelenting demands from both our regular readers (Doris and the much missed Biker Dave), it is being relaunched in May 2015. All posts will normally be attributed to their author, and the scurilous style that characterised its earlier manifestation will be less in evidence although we still intend to have some fun.

The views expressed on the blog will not necessarily be sensible or coherent, and may offend. They will also not necessarily be representative of the views of the editors who, themselves, often disagree. We will ocassionally invite contributions from people with wide-ranging political views.

You can follow the blog on Twitter http://twitter.com/BrightonPolitic

Brighton Politics Blogger

Are the Tories right to field an eleven year old in the East Brighton by-election?

A very interesting debate has been triggered by councillor Warren Morgan regarding the suitability of very young candidates in local elections. He has written in a personal capacity (and he emphasises not on behalf of the Labour Party) to Tory Kemptown MP, Simon Kirby, regarding the selection of an eleven year old (actually, he is 18) as the Tory candidate for the East Brighton by-election.

He wrote: “It is an immensely good thing that young people take an interest in politics, and feel able to get involved and stand for election; it’s something I actively encourage. Labour has a number of councillors who are in their late teens or early twenties, often in university towns where they have studied.

“However you have chosen an 18 year old who left sixth form only this summer to contest an election to represent one of the most deprived and difficult wards in the South East. As you will know from your casework, although crime has reduced and the vast majority of the eleven thousand East Brighton residents lead stable lives with steady jobs, there are unfortunately some people in East Brighton who are dealing with the consequences of domestic violence, alcohol or drug abuse, and homelessness. They often lead what are termed “chaotic lives” and have complex needs.

“Despite working for the police for four years prior to becoming a councillor, I have encountered many disturbing cases in my decade as a local representative. I’ve met a young girl whose mother was brutally murdered by her father. I’ve been to John Street police station in the middle of the night to address the potential community consequences of a fatal car accident in the ward. I’ve been briefed this week about a violent and unstable resident who has been threatening to his neighbours, council staff and police.

“Next May the changes to welfare support initiated by your government will have a severe financial impact on many vulnerable people in my ward; both of our casework loads are likely to rise as a result. Some people will face desperate financial hardship. Their cases can be distressing. They need to have councillors whose judgement and support they can rely upon and trust.

“I am sure the candidate you have chosen has many positive qualities, though his decision to use a photo of himself in fancy dress to launch his campaign does not bode well. However I would question your judgement in allowing someone so young and with such little life experience to run and potentially deal with the workload East Brighton councillors face. Of course we will be campaigning hard to elect our own, very well qualified candidate to the post, but I would urge you, before nominations close, to reconsider your choice.”

Interesting stuff, Warren. The are a couple of things I would ask you to ponder over your Sugar Puffs in the morning. You appear to say that there is something inherently different regarding East Brighton, the area you represent on the Counci, compared to, say, St Peter’s and North Laine or Rottingdean Coastal (wards where Labour themselves fielded teenage candidates Claire Calder and Harris Fitch at the last local elections). All wards have pockets of deprivation and challenging issues. I am not sure whether East Brighton is that different other than, perhaps, the scale of deprivation.

And secondly, are you saying that an 18 year old is not capable of making the judgements required of councillors? If that is the case, I think Labour needs to change its policies towards the armed forces where, under Labour and Conservative governments, 18 year olds are expected to make far more significant judgements – whether to take the life of another human being on the battlefield.

My Pal Paul Perrin has commented: “I think an 18 year old is almost certainly too inexperienced (in life) to be a good councillor, but the law is laid down by government and the selection rules by each party. There are also plenty of older people who would make lousy councillors.”

I say “Good luck” to Joe Miller. Enjoy the experience of being a candidate but don’t be too disappointed when either Chaun Wilson or Tracey Hill beats you on polling day. Your day will come, but probably not until you can grow a moustache of your own.