The Greens are yet to reach their peak – next stop Hove and Portslade

I thought that the Greens would do well in Thursday’s elections, and they did. But I had doubts where that Party goes next. I felt that there were certain limitations to their reach. I was sure that the Geens would extend their reach to the maximum at this election, and then the challenge would be to hold that position at the next general election (no difficulty there) but defending their council seats might be a challenge. I have changed my mind because of the results on Thursday.

In Brighon Pavilion, the Greens are now challenging in the Tory heartlands. The Normans, Anne and Ken, will not stand again in Withdene and the Greens, having won one seat and having come close in a second, will have high hopes of winning all 3 seats in May 2015. In Hollingdean and Stanmer, Jeane Lepper, now the sole Labour councillor in Brighton Pavilion, will not stand again, leaving the way open for Luke Walter to join Sven Rufus and Christina Summers on the Council.

And there is the final frontier, Pacham. The Theobald Machine held firm once more, but with a local council election being held on the same day as a probable general election, everything is up for grabs. And will any of the current three councillors stand again? Brian Pidgeon will retire, and Carol and Geoffrey Theobald must be considering when it will be the right time to call time.

Three years and 363 days out I am making this prediction – the Greens will win EVERY seat in Brighton Pavilion in 2015.

I will comment on Brighton Kemptown at a later date, but I think that, for the Greens, Hove and Portslade is where their future lies. After Thursday, the Greens have 6 seats, Labour have 6, and the Tories 8 seats. The Greens have consolidated its first and only seat in Goldsmid where Alex Phillips led a strong campaign to win a seat off the Tories and to defeat Melanie Davis who was a strong candidate and respected councillor.

But it is Christopher Hawtree’s breakthrough in Central Hove that changes everything. That single gain shows what is possible, and the Greens must already have begun to eye Westbourne, Wish, and the other seat in Central Hove. The Portslades, North and South, have similar demographics to Hollingdean and Stanmer, and both will become vulnerable should (as is likely) both Bob Carden and Les Hamilton stand down in 2015.

And then there is Hangleton and Knoll, a large ward which, again, like Hollingdean and Stanmer, is an area where the Greens could thrive. Dawn Barnett and Brian Fitch are no longer spring chickens, and won’t go on and on and on. Does Brian have another campaign in him (probably) but will he want to be a councillor, should he be re-elected in 2015, will be approaching 80 at the end of that term in office.

So why all this speculation about 2015? If the Greens begin building in Hove, establishing a local organisation in each of these wards (don’t fall for Labour’s mistake and run everything from a High Command), and get a dynamic parliamentary candidate in place sooner rather than later, who can support, motivate, encourage, nurture the party in Hove, then there will be a further Caroline Effect, although it could come to be known as the Alex Effect …..

Labour activists’ pathological obsession with the Evil Princess and All Her Works

I have referred in previous posts to the ‘Caroline Effect’ – how the election of Caroline Lucas has changed, and is changing, the face of politics in Brighton and Hove. I was wrong. There isn’t a ‘Caroline Effect’, there are several ‘Caroline Effects’.

Effect 1: galvanising anti-Tory opposition. Many tribal Labour supporters, like me, alienated by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, student fees, privatisation (to mention just a few) have yet to regain confidence in Labour. Labour is burdened by its record in office and support for cuts. “We wouldn’t have gone so far so soon” is hardly a rallying cry to galvanise people who are angy. Ed Milliband is yet to inspire, so too Labour’s leaders in Brighton and Hove. By contrast, Caroline Lucas is able to articulate an alternative (regardless of whether she will ever be called on to implement a programme). Because of Caroline’s leadership, the Greens continue to have momentum.

Effect 2: inspiring a generation of activists. Talking to young activists, many of whom either have not been active before or have been involved in single issue campaigns, are hitching their wagon to the Green Party because of Caroline Lucas. Who is Labour’s alternative. Locally there is nobody. Nationally there is no Labour leader who can hope to rival Caroline Lucas.

Effect 3: demolishing the two party monopoly in Brighton and Hove. There is a viable alternative to Labour in Brighton and Hove (and it isn’t the Lib Dems). Labour threw everything into its attempt to stop Caroline Lucas last May, including compromising its reputation for honesty. It failed and its scare tactic has undermined the loyalty that many showed Labour last time. Its dishonesty continues in this election each time Labour distorts election results in a crude attempt to mislead the electorate.

Effect 4: infuriating Labour activists. Speaking to many Labour activists there remains a pathological obsession with the Evil Princess and All Her Works. Labour will continue to flounder until it can get over Caroline Lucas’ success and until it can offer an alternative as attractive (politically and in style) as Caroline Lucas. A further problem for Labour is the number of young Green women activists who are emerging out of Caroline’s long shadow. They include Alex Phillips and Amy Kennedy.

Labour has missed a chance this year by leaving all its existing councillors in place, particularly in winnable seats. They have the stale pal our of defeat hanging around them. There are some young Labour activists who could have won seats (including some which I have predicted that Labour will lose). Instead, some Labour councillors have decided to cling on to the cost of the Party.

NG demonstrates the desperate lengths that anti-Lucas activists are now going to. He recently left the following comment: “There are two issues which are going to damage her and possibly Green candidates in the local elections: 1) her support for votes for rapists and murderers, and 2) her continuing to maintain her main family residence overseas in order that her children can attend a private school.” Utter tosh. This reference to the votes for prisoners is one that has challenged politicians of all parties. To characterise this as “votes for rapists and murderers is gutter politics of the lowest order. My suggestion to NG is to get out of the sewers and offer something positive.

Because of the Caroline Effects, the Greens will continue to go from strength to strength in Brighton. Until Labour activists get over Caroline’s success and begin to offer an attractive alternative, Labour will continue to flounder. Reaction to this blog will reveal whether Labour has learned anything and is moving forward.

You think Moulsecoomb and Bevendean could go Tory, or Labour, even Green, in May’s local elections

Last night’s prediction that the Conservatives may win all three seats in Moulsecoomb and Bevendean has prompted an interesting response. No surprise that Peter Booth, Tory candidate in East Brighton agrees with my prediction: “Completely agree with your assessment in Moulsecoomb & Bevendean. Maria is a hard-working and popular Councillor and is joined in this campaign by Ayas Fallon-Khan who has gained a solid reputation on Council – and predict all 3 Conservatives will win through.”  Baron Pepperpot (flattery will get you nowhere with me!) couldn’t disagree more: “three Tories in Moulsecoomb and Bevendean? At a time when the cuts will start to bite?”

Allie Cannell makes a prediction that I don’t see as likely: “I’m predicting the Greens will get a seat in M&S. There are over 2,000 students just living in University residences there.   Thats not even counting all the students living in private accomodation.”  The problem with that view is that students are not that likely to turn out in large volumes in a Kemptown seat, even for Green candidates in a local election.  If I am wrong, then all bets are off regarding the final make-up of the Council.  3 Green candidates in Moulsecoomb and Bevendean would suggest major gains by the Greens across the city.  Allie is not alone, Christopher Hawtree is predicting that “the Greens could do well in Moulescoomb.”

Kelvin Poplett, another East Brighton Conservative, says: “Surprisingly- I wholeheartedly agree with Peter Booth. From our time spent knocking on the doors in traditional Labour areas, we are finding Conservatives everywhere. Through sheer hard work we may just surprise you.”  You would surprise me if you found enough Tory votes to unseat Mitchell, Turton and Morgan. Peter Booth says that the Tories in East Brighton “are David against Goliath – Yes we oppose your particular favourite (and that favouritism does shine through in your blog) but do not under-estimate the campaign of East Brighton Conservatives – who are all in this campaign – fighting for every vote until 10pm on 5th May, and who may just surprise you and your friend Mr Morgan. There are no no-go areas in East Brighton for EB Conservatives!”  I have no favourites (other than Green Amy but she never writes, never calls – thanks to Dan Wilson for that line).

The Ghost of Nobby Clarke asks: “Is Mr Morgan rattled I wonder!, This ward has never been worked by the tories has it Peter?”.  Actually, that’s not true and it did go Tory in the early 1990s when it was Marine Ward.

My “favourite” Warren Morgan, draws attention to the fall-out in 2007 from the stock transfer issue that so damaged Labour: “Woodingdean looks pretty safe for the Tories based on the 2007 results, but interestingly the ward was split three ways at the GE count with the Lib Dem matching Simons Burgess and Kirby.  The traditionally strong Labour vote in Woodingdean (we did win a seat there in the 90s) was artificially depressed there in 2007 by the stock transfer vote fallout, as it was in Portslade, Moulsecoomb and Queens Park. Geoff is busy being mayor and Dee is busy with Cabinet duties which may explain DAPs comment above. We’ve selected some keen, new candidates both there and in Rottingdean Coastal, all hopeful of putting up a good campaign and earning safer seats next time (as BPB said in an earlier post). And complacency is a stealthy enemy in politics, as some of my colleagues found out last time.  Don’t forget in Moulsecoomb & Bevendean that the Respect candidate Dave Bangs scored over 300 votes last time (equivalent to a constituency wide Respect/Socialist vote at a GE) capitalising on the stock transfer issue, and with what he portrayed as the endorsement of two retiring councillors. And yes, the students will be a factor, particularly if they vote tactically for Labour rather than the Greens who are not in contention in M&B.”

Clive points to another issue that damaged Labour in 2007: “Another elephant that is no longer in the room is the King Alfred. Last time, this surely helped the Tories in Westbourne, Central Hove and (to a lesser extent) Goldsmid.”  He also points out the state of the parties in national polls: “the national opinion polls in April 2007 – just before the last local elections – were, taking a rough average of all taken: Conservative 37, Labour 31, LD 19. Therefore it’s hard not to conceive of Labour enjoying some kind of general uplift given that they are now polling around ten points ahead of that.”  The counter argument to that, Clive, at least in Brighton Pavilion, is the Caroline Effect and how that constituency should be seen apart from the national position.

The good Baron agrees with my assessment for Queens Park where he lives, that “it’s too close to call, but I’m not sure you’re right about which Labour candidate would be returned in the event of a split vote.”

Finally, a couple of comments have been left on this blog earlier today which are not in the spirit of debate and friendly provocation.  I haven’t approved one as it may contain a libel or two, and I have removed another offending reference in another.  Please keep to the spirit of the blog.  I really don’t want to have to moderate comments left.

Exploring the Green breakthrough in Preston Park and Labour’s successful defence

Councillor Warren Morgan has pointed out a basic error I made in a recent post when I talked of the election of Green councillor Amy Kennedy as a ‘breakthrough’ result. He asks “Why was Amy Kennedy’s result in Preston Park in 2007 ‘unexpected’? The Green’s had won a seat in 2003 with Richard Mallender, who I think then went off to be a councillor elsewhere.”

You are right, as usual, Warren, and I apologise for this error. However, I don’t agree with his next comment that “the unexpected thing at that point was that unlike in other wards previously where they had established a foothold, the Greens did not go on to win all three seats. In fact the other two Green candidates (including the then serving councillor Simon Williams who moved a la Sven Rufus) finished a good four to five hundred votes behind.”

My recollection was that the Greens, rightly at that time, felt that the prospects of winning more than one seat in that election were remote. They therefore concentrated their efforts on getting Green Amy elected. Warren points out that the two sitting Labour councillors, Juliet McCaffery and Kevin Allen had gained popularity over the school admissions debacle. That is no longer a live issue.

Allie Cannell points out that 4 years is a long time in electoral terms. Yes, Warren, the Greens success has largely been achieved at a time of an unpopular Labour government, but locally there’s the Caroline Effect which off-sets any reclaiming by Labour of lost ground. A line that Labour has spun in the past is a vote fornthe Greens could see a Tory elected. That line will no longer wash.

In fact, I have spoken to people who voted Labour at the general election because they believed the Labour line that a vote for Lucas would result in the election of Charlotte ‘Chuck’ Vere. When Caroline was elected, they felt cheated and several people have said to me that, even though they would normally vote Labour, this election they will be voting Green to make up for not having voted Green last time.

In Preston Park it is a fight between Labour and the Greens, and I believe that the Greens will make a gain here. Similarly, the Greens will also make a breakthrough in Hollingdean and Stanmer for this and other reasons.

Labour’s strengths and weaknesses in Brighton and Hove

East Brighton councillor, Warren Morgan, has submitted a particularly robust and characteristically thoughtful response to my recent post about the state of Labour in Brighton and Hove.  I had, perhaps unfairly, reflected on councillor Morgan’s earlier revelation that Labour is yet to select for all seats for May’s local elections as a sign of Labour’s decline in the City. 

Warren has made some very sound points which deserves prominent coverage, and a serious response.

He says that it is “a hell of a leap to suggest Labour is ‘in decline’ because it hasn’t quite selected candidates for two ultra-safe Tory wards three months out from polling day… I don’t see any evidence that the Greens or the Tories have finalised their line-ups for May yet, indeed they may well change their candidates at the last minute as the Greens did in Preston Park in ’07.”

He continues: “I’ve no idea who the Greens or Lib Dems are putting up in East Brighton, and the Tories only selected for Queens Park a few weeks ago. Labour selected candidates well in advance compared to the previous two sets of local elections in wards where we are campaigning to win back seats lost last time.”

The point I was making in my earlier post was that the was a time when Labour would have had all it’s candidates in place many months before polling day, even in no hope seats. There was a time when hopefuls would seek to be selected in no hope seats in order to learn the ropes and hope to be seen to be an energetic and able candidate. And again, potential councillors learned the ropes, honed their debating skills and generally toughened up for several years before even being considered for the panel of candidates, let alone being selected to fight a winnable seat.

Now we have the situation where Labour struggles to find candidates, credible or otherwise, to stand in certain seats. To that extent, they are in decline.

Warren reflects on the state of the parties nationally: “Labour are 10% ahead of the Tories in the national polls, and have been winning council by-elections with 10 or 20% swings around the country.” Warren is right about that, but as he will know, Brighton bucks the national trend, at least in Brighton Pavilion.  He disagrees, “Labour locally are better resourced, have a good set of candidates who represent the entire spectrum of the city and who are campaigning from opposition locally and nationally for the first time in decades. That puts us in a strong position.”

We have three factors that will mean that Labour will not bounce back in the same way as it may do elsewhere. 

First, and most significantly, is the Caroline Effect. Labour shouted “wolf” too often last year, and many traditional Labour voters like me will vote for a Green candidate (in winnable seats) with much more confidence than before.

Second, and related to the first, is the anger that many Labour supporters continue to feel about Labour in government. Yes, many will be very, very angry about the Tory-led Coalition Government, and many will take advantage of the Green option in these locals.

And third, Labour has a real fight on with the Tories who, under Mary Mears leadership, will threaten Labour in its own heartlands, including Moulsecoomb and Bevendean, the two Portslade wards, and Hangleton and Knoll (although all of these currently have at least one Tory councillor).

Warren, unlike some of his less thoughtful Labour colleagues, recognises the strength of the Greens, and thinks that most voters don’t cast their votes in locals based on local issues: “No one suggests the Greens aren’t strong in many wards but their star is fading as Cameron’s cuts consolidate the Labour vote. The Tories seem hideously unpopular on the doorstep, and even their council tax stunts and incumbency (in the council & MPs offices) won’t help much in the face of a big national swing. Much as we all like to think that voters are immersed in the intricate nuances of local democracy, most cast their vote based on the national picture at the time.”

Warren’s analysis is credible, but one with which I disagree.  The Tories under Mary Mears aren’t as hated as he suggests. The “council tax stunts” as he calls them, may not have the impact on the doorstep as the Tories might hope, but it has galvanised Tory activists, especially the Estate Agent classes in Goldsmid, not to mention Momma Grizzly.

Warren’s personal strengths as a councillor and campaigner, for which I have great respect, means he sees Labour in the rest of the City as if it reflected East Brighton.  I am sorry to say, and I mean this, it is not the case.  If Labour had more Warren Morgan’s in it’s ranks it would be far better placed to challenge effectively in May.  And because of this, I stand by my view that Labour’s decline will continue.

What will the ‘Caroline Effect’ be in May’s local elections in Brighton and Hove?

I am in a state of shock.  Allie Cannell left a comment on my blog which I reproduce in full: “I agree with BPB”. I’m not used to such support! And I will return the compliment: I agree with Allie Cannell” when he says that the ‘Caroline Effect’ breaks the idea that voting Green is a wasted vote.  HP on the other hand is totally wrong when he/she says that Caroline Lucas has had no effect since “she shows up at parliament every day and effectively p*sses in the wind as she sits in a group of one, just 325 seats short of being able to do anything”.  It could be said that Labour MP’s are having the same effect as one Green MP, showing up at parliament every day and effectively p*sses in the wind as they sit in a group of 258, about 70 seats short of being able to do anything.

Dr Faust asks whether Labour and the Greens should actively work together with a view to sharing power?  I agree with HP’s comment about the desirability of this locally: “The Tory core is going to hold up okay but there are enough seats to be taken off them to get a more progressive group into power. If the Greens and Labour cannot work together to achieve this then all voters of a leftish pursuasion will have been sold short by both parties”.  I know it is wishful thinking, but it is worth thinking about.

The Caroline Effect will be a significant factor in May.  Voters will be less likely to fall for the Labour line of “Vote Labour or let the Tories in”.  That is a discredited line and those Labour candidates who allow it to be used deserve to be beaten.  The Caroline Effect continues to motivate and enthuse Green activists.  And supporters of other parties, Labour and Tories alike, are not immune either from the Caroline Effect.  But most of all, Lib Dem supporters are most likely to be swayed by the Caroline effect as they desert in droves.

Christopher Hawtree, the Champion of Rottingdean, sums up my feelings about May’s local elections in Brighton and Hove, that this is “very interesting times” with “many moves on the chess board”.