Forecasting the results of May’s local elections in Brighton and Hove – a dangerous activity

The local elections are just over two weeks away, and the outcome of these elections is the most difficult to predict in years.

The current state of the parties is:

  • Conservatives 21
  • Labour 19
  • Greens 11
  • Independents 2
  • Vacancy 1

All three parties have high hopes of increasing their representation, and all three have lesser or greater hopes of being the largest party. There is a slim, very slim, chance that there will be a majority administration for the first time in years.

Starting with the Conservatives, they have their eyes set on winning two seats snatched from them by Labour in 2015: Westbourne and Central Hove. They might also hope to hold on to one seat in Moulsecoomb and Bevendean, that of Anne Meadows who recently defected from Labour. They would also hope to pick up both seats in North Portslade, although I can’t see them shifting Labour’s Peter Atkinson. My prediction is that they will see no net change and remain on 21, gaining one seat and losing one.

Labour has high hopes of increasing their reputation from the 23 they won in 2015. This number has decreased to 19 with the defection of Anne Meadows, the recent vacancy caused by the resignation of Caroline Penn, and two councillors becoming independents, former leader Warren Morgan and t, both who joined the Independent Group (although the latter resigned from that Group last week). Labour will be confident of regaining all four of these seats and will be targeting Green-held seats in Hanover (2), Goldsmid (2) and Preston Park (1). The Party is also eying up an additional seat in both Central Hove and Westbourne. In an exceptional year they might fancy their chances of winning back Hangleton and Knoll, but it would require a political earthquake to do so this time. My prediction is Labour will see a net increase of two seats, gaining four and losing two, leaving them equal with the Conservatives on 21.

The Greens lost a large number of seats to Labour last time, taking them from the largest to the smallest group on the City Council. They are hoping to regain many of these including in Hollingdean and Stanmer (3), Queens Park (3), Preston Park (2), and Hanover (1). They have also been active in Moulsecoomb and Bevendean (3), targeting the student vote. And then there is Westbourne where that electoral phenomenon, Christopher Hawtree, is standing. Only a foolish person would write off his chances of winning the Greens first ever seat in that ward. If the Greens were to be successful in all these contests, they would end up with 24 seats, relegating Labour to third place. However, I predict that they will hold their current seats and pick up just one additional one.

The Liberal Democrat’s don’t hold any seats, and I cannot see any area where they will make a breakthrough this time.

All in all, all four parties will be left disappointed. A extra seat here or there will decide whether Labour or the Conservatives are the largest party, with the balance of power being held, once again, by the Greens.

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Tories select Phileas Fogg as its candidate in the East Brighton by-election

The Conservatives have been quick off the mark in the East Brighton by-election, having selected Joe Miller as its candidate. Known as @joeymick94 on Twitter, the Tories have gone young, very young, very very young. The 94 in his twitter handle does suggest that he was born in 1994. The Tories appear to have skipped not just one generation, but several generations of potential candidates.

An hour ago he announced on Twitter that he has been selected as the Tory candidate. He even posted this quite bizarre photograph which will no doubt come back to haunt him. It is probably a slightly worse photograph than that used by Caroline Penn when first selected for Labour. In that photograph it looked as though Caroline was posing in a poll dancing club, or what your humble blogger imagines a poll dancing club looks like. She hastily changed that photo but copies were made and if you ask very nicely I might just find an excuse to repost it.

So what chance does the Boy Joe have? About as much chance of him being able to buy a pint without proof of age. Perhaps the false moustache is intended to convey gravitas or perhaps he is simply a huge fan of Phileas Fogg.

Labour have short listed just two candidates, both of whom would make exceptionally good candidates and whoever is selected will be elected. Either Chaun Wilson or Tracey Hill will be an asset for Labour. Labour will announce tomorrow evening which one of these two women will be its candidate.

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

What are you doing, Brighton? Since I last commented on the affairs of this fair city the wheels on the bus no longer seem to be going round and round, but seem to have fallen off.

In the space of 3 months the Dear Leader, Bill Randall, has been replaced by the Son of the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-Kitcat, or Jason as he prefers to be known. Well, that had been anticipated for many months, so no shock there. But from a tier of 5 senior officers (a chief executive and 4 Super Directors) three are moving on to pastures new.

In September chief executive, John Barradell, is moving to take up a similar position in the Corporation of the City of London, Charlie Stewart is to become the chief executive of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, and David Murray is heading off to, actually I have no idea where.  In the case of Biker Dave, it was a bit of a pantomime, a matter of “is he going? Yes he is. Oh no he isn’t, he’s going to become interim chief executive! Oh no he’s not! Oh yes he is!” etc.

In fact Finance Director, Catherine Vaughan, who has never before enjoyed such high prestige (by which I mean featuring in this esteemed blog), has been recommended to act up …. as interim chief executive. Catherine is highly respected, and is said to have a good working relationship with Jason Kitcat from his time as Finance Chief. They will need to work well together because the next year could be brutal as the Council has to make up the amount to be lost following Labour and the Conservatives acceptance of the government’s council tax freeze bribe, and further cuts to budgets. How they managed the budget process for 2012/13 was very impressive, and bodes well for Jason Kitcat’s leadership should he remain engaged and responds on a political level.

Back to wheels on the bus. The axing of the bus routes, and the confusion over bus tenders, hasn’t looked good for the Greens. A u-turn in the last couple of days, when a wedge of cash was found down the back of the sofa, has saved the services. Is this yet another great result for the fearless campaign to save the number …? What number is it this week, councillor Fitch

Labour has run a successful campaign to save the bus routes. And credit hear should go to councillor Gill Mitchell and the party dynamo, Caroline Penn, who always seems to be snapping at the heals of the Greens and Tories, taking well aimed bites along the way.
Labour seems to be in good spirits following its restructuring, and once again full of fight.

The Enigmatic Flo has lamented my absence in recent months, asking why I was not giving credit where credit is due. She has chastised me saying it is about time I said something nice about Labour. Yes, the Labour Party in Brighton and Hove seems to be in much better shape, taking the Greens on in a concerted fight back. Target seats have been identified, with Hollingdean and Stanmer being high on their hit list.

Being the political establishment is never easy, and the Greens have taken a knocking in recent months. Labour made a mistake some years back when they had highly competent people at the helm of the City Council, but they lost the political argument. Something similar is happening with the Greens. The bus fiasco hasn’t helped.

The Tories are not benefiting much from the Green’s ill-ease. Apart from Bulldog Bobby from Westbourne, my identical twin brother, Graham Cox, they are lacking punch. The Bulldog appears to be doing all the running, and my prediction is that it will be Bobby who leads the Tories into the 2015 local elections.

But neither Labour or the Conservatives should be complacent over the difficulties being experienced by the Greens. All administrations have difficulties, but there are some good political tacticians within the Green ranks. As long as the Green Group doesn’t assume it is the Green Party locally to the exclusion of others (as the Labour Group did in Brighton from which it is only just recovering) the Greens will remain a political force locally. After all, the Greens have a trump card, and one that infuriates Labour activists. Remaining the outstanding politician in the City, head and shoulders above the rest, is Caroline Lucas.

A new dawn and the hand of history greets the new Labour Party in Brighton and Hove

The new Brighton and Hove Labour Party formally came into being this morning with an all-City AGM. New officers have been elected and my source at the centre of power believes the new line-up of officers makes “a strong team” and that there will be a new focus on campaigning as opposed to endless meetings.

Adrian Morris is the newly elected Chair. (I know it will upset my Labour friends when I remind them that Adrian stood down at the 11th hour as candidate in St Peters and North Laine in the 2011 elections. I hope he has greater staying power this time).

The two new vice-chairs are Nigel Jenner (who did well in the Westbourne by-election in December) and Christine Robinson (who I respect as a strong trade unionist who works for GMB). The new executive committee is made up of Juan Leahy, Tracey Hill, Caroline Penn, former councillor Kevin Allen & Chaun (I am sorry but I don’t know her surname, but
she impressed with what sounds what appeared to be a great speech).

I understand that this AGM marks a watershed for Labour in Brighton and Hove with a shift of focus away from the internal reviews to a new focus on taking on the Tories & campaigning on national issues. Mike Weatherley will be a main focus of some of the campaigning, but it remains to be seen whether the New New Labour in the City will be able to let go of their obsession with the She Devil and All Her Works (my regular readers, Momma Grizzly, Doris and Biker Dave know that that is a reference to Caroline Lucas – not my view but that of the likes of Harris Fitch).

It looks as though Labour will field a candidate for Police Commissioner, which is a shame since the Party has no chance of being successful, where as an independent might just spring a surprise.

The Greens could take a leaf or two out of Labour’s book when it comes to selecting candidates for the European elections. Labour’s selection will have gender balance so if (as expected) Peter Skinner is number 1 on the Labour list, number 2 will be a woman.

So we have a new dawn for Labour in Brighton and Hove which can be nothing but a good thing for the political process. It really isn’t a time for sound bites, but I sense the hand of history on my shoulder …..

(Update: Chaun’s surname is Wilson)
(Update 2: changed ‘sound items’ to ‘sound bites’)

Time for Labour and the Conservatives to stop personal attacks and to present their alternative budgets

I am back from my Rip van Winkle hibernation. Regarding the future of this blog, I have paused, listened, reflected and … You know the rest. I will continue for the time being. This decision is down primarily to the daily pleas for me to continue from my three regular readers, Grizzly, Doris and Biker Dave.

I think there has been enough now on this blog about Christopher Hawtree and libraries. As Geoffrey Bowden posted at 1.05 yesterday morning, everyone with views on libraries should contribute to the consultation by visiting the council’s consultation portal.

Moving on. Where are we at. Unlike me, Lord Bassam appears to have gone for at least 2 weeks without sleep as he attacks the Greens in Brighton and Hove for Tory imposed cuts from Westminster. It is a shames that Labour continues to see the Greens as the enemy. All I can think is that by attacking the Greens in such an unrelenting fashion Labour hopes to deflect attention from their absence of policies.

Ed Balls has made it clear what we can expect:

“My starting point is, I am afraid, we are going to have keep all these cuts. There is a big squeeze happening on budgets across the piece. The squeeze on defence spending, for instance, is £15bn by 2015. We are going to have to start from that being the baseline. At this stage, we can make no commitments to reverse any of that, on spending or on tax. So I am being absolutely clear about that.”

Look at Scotland, Labour hitched its wagon to the ill-thought through Tory referendum quicker than you can say Alex Salmond. Why didn’t Labour find a position somewhere between the Tories and the SNP? It is because Labour cannot see beyond trying to protect its own short term interests by attacking those to the left, be it the SNP in Scotland or the Greens in Brighton and Hove.

So why vote Labour …..? What does Labour offer that is different from the Tories? It no longer offers an alternative when it comes to pulic spending. If I want to vote for a party of austerity, I might as well vote for the one that is enthusiastic about cuts, about small government.

Locally, just Lord Bassam, There’s-only-one-Caroline-in-Hove, Warren Morgan and Craig Turton seem to be fighting for Labour, but their focus appears to be purely on the Greens. It must be difficult to be in the Labour Party when Ed Miliband is failing to make an impact, and Ed Balls is signing up to Tory cuts. I would appeal to Labour activists locally to say what there alternative is to the cuts imposed by the Westminster Tories. Please list what services you intend to put forward for cutting, how many jobs will go, and how you intend to make up for the shortfall in income resulting from buying into the Tories’ Council Tax freeze gimmick.

The Greens have published their draft budget, and are consulting on it. I do think their approach has been the most open, consultative approach to budget setting that I can recall. Credit to them there. I don’t agree with everything they are proposing to do, but anyone in control locally, Green, Labour or Tories, would have no choice but to cut.

So what is Labour’s alternative? Each time you oppose a Green cut, it is required of you to put forward an alternate cut. It is what you demanded when you were in control locally. Or are you saying you would not cut, that you would set a deficit/illegal budget? It is time Labour locallyshows it has an alternative (assuming it has one).

And the Tories, you too need to list your cuts. There are many who want to know how exactly you will obey your Westminster Masters and make the cuts required in Brighton and Hove.

One reason I considered closing down this blog was because politics locally is about to become very nasty indeed. I hate the prospect of the closure of services, making people redundant, new hardships.

So, Labour opponents of the Greens, please stop the attacks and let’s hear from you what you would do.

Reflecting of the reasons for the Conservative victory in the Westbourne by-election

First of all, congratulations to Graham Cox on his victory. Here is the full result:
Graham Cox (Conservative) 1027
Nigel Jenner (Labour) 826
Louisa Greenbaum (Green) 645
Gareth Jone (LibDem) 45
Paul Perrin (UKIP) 36
Pip Tindall (TUSC) 26
Susan Collard (European Citizens) 13

It was definitely a good night for the Tories made all that better by Labour beating the Greens into second place. I think there are three factors that resulted in this good result:

Graham Cox: Graham, as I have said since his selection, was an inspired choice. His appeal transcends traditional party loyalties and we can expect to see him rising very quickly into a leadership position within the Tory ranks.
The Legacy of The Bishop: Graham’s predecessor, Brian Oxley, was well-respected and some support for Graham will have been derived from Brian. Graham will no doubt convert those loyalty votes for Brian to his own.
Mike Weatherley: In spite of rumoured tensions between Graham and Mike, the current standing and high profile of the MP for Hove will have benefited Graham.

Labour’s performance will have brought some quiet satisfaction. While they did not win the seat, Labour achieved its primary objective of beating the Greens. It was noticeable that the tone of most of Labour’s message at present in Brighton and Hove is anti-Green. Perhaps now it will turn it’s focus on the Tories who are, after all, enforcing the cuts on Brighton and Hove. The unrelenting attacks on the Greens is somewhat disingenuous.

For the Greens, third place behind Labour in second is the second worst result possible. (The worst result would to have been beaten by UKIP). In May the Greens did little work in the ward. In this by-election they worked it to win but did not improve their position or share of the vote.

As mentioned above, the Greens have been subjected to unrelenting attacks from the Argus and by three individual Labour members, Lord Bassam, Caroline Penn, and councillor Warren Morgan. While Jason Kitcat has diligently responded in a statesmanlike manner, the attacks are what the Greens must expect for the next three and a half years leading up to May 2015.

Labour’s LOLA campaign (Leave Our Loos Alone) shows some imagination. I would be interested to know who came up with this idea. More of that kind of propaganda will serve Labour well.

The Tories have cause to celebrate, Labour too. The Greens need to lick their wounds, reflect on where they have arrive in the political cycle, and devise a strategy for recovery. I will return to this theme in the new year.

But there was one big loser in this by-election whose performance betrayed his previous unblemished record, and that was the prediction of your Humble Blogger. As my three regular readers (Doris, Biker Dave and Grizzly) will know, my forecasts are usually spot on. But this time, failure. In mitigation, I did recognise the personal strengths of Graham Cox from the moment he was first selected and thought that his selection made a Tory victory a real possibility.

By way of contrition, I will share something later this evening about councillor Cox and me. This revelation will not doubt be the talk around Christmas trees of Brighton and Hove this Festive Season.

Westbourne by-election, and the record of the Dear Leader

“I was sad to hear that Councillor Bill Randall has stepped down as Leader of Brighton and Hove City Council. I have never heard a bad word about him and I wish him well as Mayor.”

This is clearly the season of good will for these are not my words but those of the Deputy Chair (Political) of Brighton and Hove Conservatives, Robert Nemeth writing in today’s Brighton Argus.

But the Christmas spirit quickly evaporates and bad words are implied, if not said, against the Dear Leader (Randall, not Kim Jong-il). The “Greens did not hit the ground running”, decisions were taken “on the move rather than making the changes that were promised”, and that the situation has “no doubt been exacerbated by the internal squabbles”. He points to “chaos” on the issues of council tax, Falmer Stadium, and the Victoria Gardens campsite.

If that is not saying bad words against the Dear Leader, then I don’t know what is. And also, am right in thinking that history is being re-written? The Dear Leader hasn’t stood down after 6 months. He will remain the Dear Leader until the annual Council at which point he will become the Dear Mayor.

As for the Greens not hitting the ground running, my perception is that they did just that, and the approach to the budget has been quite extraordinary. By taking an open, inclusive approach to its preparation, and the invitation to Labour and Tory councillors, the opposition have been wrong footed, hence the all-out attack on the Greens by Labour’s Lord Bassam, Caroline Penn and Warren Morgan, and now Robert himself.

To suggest that there has been “chaos” is nonsense. These issues are the normal challenges that face a new (and yes, inexperienced) administration.

I don’t detect “internal squabbles”. There is debate and there are differences, but this has largely involved organisation and, to a lesser extent personalities. But such differences pale into insignificance when compared to the split between the the Hove and Pavilion Conservatives and the Kemptown Tories.

But enough of the Dear Leader, and enough of Mr Nemeth. All thoughts have turned to Christmas. Oh no they haven’t. Oh yes they have. OH NO THEY HAVEN’T!!! All thoughts are focused on Westbourne and tomorrow’s by-election.

I hear that both the Tories and Greens are pleased with their postal vote campaigns,I and that Labour and the Greens are pleased with their poster campaign. On postal votes, the Greens usually think they don’t do too well here, but they are quietly pleased with what they have achieved in Westbourne, and confidence levels are rising. But I hear from deep within the Labour camp that they are pleased with the number of promises they have secured for Nigel Jenner. The question is, how firm are these promises?

My prediction? I correctly ‘called’ the Goldsmid by-election, the Brighton Pavilion result (although I thought Chuck Vere would come second), and the number of seats the Greens would win in May (I said 22 or 23 – I didn’t see Chris Hawtree winning although he did). But this by-election is the most difficult ‘call’ because of the, likely, very low turnout. If this by-election was to take place in, say, May, I would think the Greens would win. They have the Big Mo, a candidate who lives in the ward, and in Luke Walter, the best election organiser in the City.

But the Joker in the Pack is the Tory candidate, Graham Cox. He is the equal to the Green’s Louisa Greenbaum, he is a first rate candidate. Without the other, either of these candidates would swing the result in an election as close as this.

If pushed, I would call it for Louisa Greenbaum, but it will be one of the closest results in years. I think that given the low turnout it could still go any one of three ways.

Best wishes to ALL candidates tomorrow. My respect for candidates remains, and I thank all seven of you for making democracy a reality.

(The original version of this post referred to Caroline Pegg. Her name has been corrected to Caroline Penn).