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.

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Do we have to accept that there will always be minority administrations in Brighton and Hove? by Andy Winter

Little changed in Brighton and Hove as a result of the local elections. Yes, the Green left of centre minority administration was ousted by a Labour left of centre minority, their share of seats roughly reflecting how many the other party had going into the elections. The Conservatives remained roughly where they were, a gain here, a loss there.

Congratulations and good luck to the successful candidates. Commiserations and thanks to those disappointed this time.

Labour and the Greens compete for roughly the same territory. Labour would have hoped to pick up a few extra seats, in Preston Park, Goldsmid and Hanover, whereas the Greens will be aiming to recover the seats they lost in these wards, and in Queens Park, next time.

Before the elections I forecast that the result would be 22 Labour, 22 Conservative, 10 Green. The actual result was 23 Labour, 20 Conservative and 11 Green. I hadn’t predicted the Labour gain in Westbourne or in Central Hove, nor the Green hold in Goldsmid.

So what could change? There are likely to be one or two by-elections. Some candidates, especially those elected unexpectedly, will not have thought about the huge demands there are on councillors, or those who had not realised that other aspects of their lives, particularly careers, must be put on hold for the duration of their terms of office. But even if a couple of seats change hands in by-elections, it won’t change the balance of power on the Council. The last Council saw only one seat change hands in four years, when Emma Daniel took a seat from the Greens in Hanover.

So, let’s look to 2019. Labour will hope to make further gains on the Greens. Depending on how Labour does as the new minority administration, they will benefit or be hindered next time. In a good year they would hope to hold on to what they have and definitely pick up the remaining Green seats in Goldsmid and Preston Park. Further inroads in the remaining strong Green-held wards of Regency and Brunswick and Adelaide are unlikely given this was as bad a bad year for the Greens as could be imagined, and in St Peters and North Laine the loss of this ward is unthinkable. Further Labour gains from the Conservatives are, also, unlikely (unless they can remove the Force of Nature than is Dawn Barnett and Co. in Hangleton and Knoll), and Labour will do well to consolidate their gains in Westbourne and Central Hove. Labour could, realistically, get to 25, possibly 26 seats in 2019.

The Greens will struggle to return to the heady heights achieved in 2011. They used to be a movement but they have become a political party (apart from Caroline Lucas who continues, exceptionally, to attract support from across the party political spectrum). The Greens might pick up a seat here or there, but many of the new Labour councillors are younger, energetic, and will be determined to strengthen, if not increase, their base.

That leaves the Conservatives. There will be some frustration, not least surprise, that seats were lost in Central Hove and, in particular, Westbourne. (On a personal note, I am sorry that my friend, Shaun Gunner, will not be a councillor, for now, at least. Regardless of the party he represents, Shaun is a thoughtful, hard-working and insightful politician. He will, one day, be a respected City Councillor). In a very good year for the Conservatives they will pick up seats in other areas, including in Moulsecoomb (it’s happened twice before) and in the Portslades. They could, just, reach the magic figure of 27, but it would have to be an exceptional year for them.

So in all likelihood, unless there are further demographic changes, or if there is a collapse of one of the three parties in Brighton and Hove, we are likely to see minority administrations for years to come.

Unless, of course, we have a winner-takes-all elected mayor …..!

Are the political classes in Brighton mature enough to cope with Caroline Lucas disagreeing with the Green Group?

A sign of a mature democracy is how it deals with dissent. It should be able to cope with it without clamping down on freedoms or maligning the dissenter. Similarly, a mature political party should not only accommodate dissent, it should positively welcome it.

Political parties should not try to resemble religious sects, demanding total and uncritical allegiance regardless of the merits of an argument. It is funny that the Blairites in New Labour demanded the same unthinking loyalty as Militant Tendency required of its acolytes.

I have always felt that the Green Party has shown more maturity than some other parties, particularly Labour in Brighton and Hove, when handling dissent. When Cllr Alex Phillips was the lone vote against the Labour/Conservative budget, most members of the Green Group respected the stance she had taken. Her dissent was widely welcomed within the Green Party.

I know plenty of Green Party members who remain supportive of the Green Council in spite of disagreements over particular policies and actions. To suggest, as Labour is doing, that the cuts being forced on the City Council are either “Green cuts” or that Caroline Lucas is somehow responsible for them, is childish politics.

I would imagine, and sources within the Green Party have suggested to me, that Caroline Lucas herself is not comfortable with some of the actions of Green members on the City Council. I believe that she disagreed with the expulsion of Christina Summers even though Ms Lucas’ record on gay marriage is without doubt.

The problem for Caroline Lucas is the immaturity of the political process where activists in parties opposed to the Greens might seize upon any admission of disagreement as a split within the Green Party. It is not a split, it is a disagreement and should any of my occasional readers try to make political capital out of this, they will merely be proving my point about political immaturity.

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.

Chaun Wilson wins the East Brighton by-election for Labour

Congratulations to Chaun Wilson on her victory in today’s East Brighton by-election. Several weeks ago, on 21st September, I described Chaun simply as ‘The Winner’. I wrote: “East Brighton is Labour’s strongest stronghold, thanks to the work of sitting councillors Gill Mitchell and Warren Morgan, and that of the recently resigned Craig Turton. The chances of Labour losing this seat is about as great as someone finding Nick Clegg’s backbone.”

I was wrong. She didn’t just win. It was a landslide:

Carlie Goldsmith (Green Party) 456
Joe Miller (Conservative) 531
Chaun Wilson (Labour) 1,596

Turnout was 26%.

The result will be more than pleasing for Labour as it rebuilds towards 2015. A defeat would have been a disaster. The challenge for Labour is to seek to regain some of the ground lost in 2011 to the Greens and, as important, to make inroads in Tory seats, particularly areas like Hangleton and Knoll. The size of their landslide will give them heart and is a sign that Labour is returning to its former strength in Brighton.

The Greens had hoped for a second place finish so the result will have been disappointing but not particularly relevant as East Brighton does not feature large in their plans. Not much should be read into the Greens third place. Had it been a by-election in a seat in Brighton Pavilion it would have been more worrying, a set back for their hopes of strengthening their position on the Council in 2015. (I will be writing more soon about the prospects for Caroline Lucas in 2015 – my belief that her prospects for re-election will not be dependant on the success or otherwise of the Green Council. Even with the boundary changes, Ms Lucas will win).

The Conservatives put up a brave fight in spite of the hopelessness of their cause in East Brighton. Joe Miller was an ‘interesting’ choice but not one that was likely to cause an upset. He is a nice enough young man but it takes an extraordinary young person to be elected. And Joe Miller is no Alex Phillips.

So in East Brighton, normal service is resumed. Welcome to councillor Chaun Wilson, and I look forward to seeing her in action in the Council Chamber.

‘War Crime’ allegations against Tony Blair causing ongoing problems for Labour

A problem that Labour continues to have, and one that it would love to wish away, is the issue of Tony Blair. Labour activists will tell you that it is not an issue on the doorstep or that we should be looking forward. I sympathise with those Labourites who marched against the war and desperately want this issue to be forgotten.

Unfortunately, Tony Blair and Iraq will just not go away. There are calls from the idiot wing of the Blairites that he should be brought back to help Labour’s prospects for 2015. (I imagine the Greens and Lib Dems would love the human manifestation of this grotesque war to return).

Archbishop Desmond Tutu refused to share a platform with him at a conference in Johannesburg on Friday, and in today’s Observer the Nobel Peace Prize winner has called for Blair and George W Bush to be put on trial at The Hague.

He writes in today’s Observer: “The then leaders of the United States [Mr Bush] and Great Britain [Mr Blair] fabricated the grounds to behave like playground bullies and drive us further apart. They have driven us to the edge of a precipice where we now stand – with the spectre of Syria and Iran before us.

“To say that the fact that Saddam massacred hundreds of thousands of his citizens is irrelevant to the morality of removing him is bizarre.”

He added: “The question is not whether Saddam Hussein was good or bad or how many of his people he massacred. The point is that Mr Bush and Mr Blair should not have allowed themselves to stoop to his immoral level.”

Referring to the death toll as a result of military action in Iraq since 2003 he said: “On these grounds, alone, in a consistent world, those responsible should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in The Hague.”

Tony Blair has responded angrily, repeating his usual line that Iraq and the world is better off without Saddam Hussain. The problem with that position is that it is a public interest defence, it doesn’t go to the heart of the allegation. It is a plea of mitigation but it does not respond to the basic allegation that the war itself was illegal.

Blair and Iraq remain a spectre that haunts Labour’s efforts to rehabilitate itself in the run-up to 2015. Tony Blair remains a member of the Labour Party. It ill-becomes a party that it has amongst its ranks a man who many in and out of the Party regards as someone who has questions to answer about war crimes.

While Labour refuses to act against Blair, or while its activists remain in denial about the legacy of Iraq, there remain electoral consequences in Brighton and Hove. It was a factor that saw Caroline Lucas pip Nancy Platts at the post in 2010 (in spite of Nancy’s unblemished record as an anti-war activist

And it goes further for Labour. There was the entire Cabinet who supported the war, and there are the ranks of back benchers who voted for this war. They did so because of the hope of preferment or because they were simply obeying orders from the Whips. Remember, there was an honourable member of the Cabinet who resigned on principle  over the war and there were a hundred or so Labour back benchers who also voted against it (in spite of threats and bullying).

A lingering doubt remains: how would a future Labour Government respond if the ‘intelligence’ demanded action against the next international villain? With Blair there, or thereabouts, I retain more than a sense of unease

Condemning the rent-a-mob antics of the anti-Traveller Tories

As my regular readers (Momma Grizzly, Doris and Biker Dave) know, I am a big fan of Thatcher’s Granny, councillor Dawn Barnett of Hangleton and Knoll. I like her style if not her politics.

But I was disappointed that she apparently led a group of 50 or so to disrupt a constituency surgery of the MP for Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas.

As a child I was always told that there are two areas of political neutrality. The first being the polling station where numbers are collected and shared by agents of each party. There is no political point-scoring and, if you have ever had the huge good fortune to team up on such an occasion with campaigner-extraordinaire, Christopher Hawtree, a fun time is had by all.

The second is the MP’s constituency surgery. This is a relatively modern creation, dating back to the 1970’s and created by theLiberal Party who were re-inventing politics with there concept of ‘pavement politics’. Roy Hattersley quotes one of his predecessors giving a pledge to return to the constituency every three months to report on his work in Parliament. The idea of MP’s becoming super social workers is new. Yet it is important part of their role, yet one that is under-resources necessitating the lovely Momma Grizzly to have a second job packing shelves at Asda.

The MP’s surgery allows constituents, many of whom are troubled, desperate, even distressed, to meet one of their elected representatives. There sometimes needs to be anonymity because of the sensitive issues that might be being brought.

Imagine then, if you will, the sight and noise of 50 protesters ‘dropping in’. Councillor Barnett had been led to believe it was a public meeting. It wasn’t. Mistakes happen and I am sure that had Dawn realised it was a surgery, she would not have disrupted it.

Similarly, councillor Brian Pidgeon was there. I wonder how his constituents from Patcham, who had come to see their MP, felt about him being part of this rent-a-mob.

Why was councillor Barnett there at all? It isn’t in her ward, not even in the constituency within which her ward is located. When I questioned why the People’s Mike was doing more in Brighton Pavilion than in his own constituency, I was told it was because Caroline Lucas wasn’t doing a good job. Anyone who has dealt with Ms Lucas knows that she is an extraordinary dedicated, hard-working and diligent constituency MP.

But I digress. Back to Thatcher’s Granny. Does she feel a need to intervene in the affairs of Patcham ward because the ward councillors are doing such a bad job? If so, Brian Pidgeon should have a word with his Conservative colleagues in Patcham, Geoffrey Theobald and Carol Theobald, rather than inconvenience ordinary citizens by interrupting the MP’s surgery.

The issue of travellers might be contentious, but it does not justify councillors Barnett and Pidgeon acting like lawless hooligans nor using local residents with a genuine, but perhaps ill-conceived, concern regarding Travellers as pawns in their highly politicised campaign against the Green Member of Parliament.