Political Awards 2010: Politician of the Year Part 1

This award has five nominees, one for the three main parties in Brighton and Hove (Conservative, Labour and Green) and one for two of the fringe parties locally (Lib Dem and UKIP). 

The nominee for the Conservative Party is a politician that has established himself and consolidated his position in a relatively short period of time.  Mike Weatherley is the MP for Hove, elected in May with a majority of 1,868 over the sitting Labour MP, Celia Barlow.  This was a good showing by Celia and the narrowness of Weatherley’s majority should not lead to the conclusion that this will be a marginal next time.  Weatherley has quickly established a reputation as a hard-working constituency MP.  He goes about his business with diligence and little fanfare, but he is making it count where it matters – the careful nurturing of communities of interest.  He is following in the tradition of other effective local MP’s such as David Lepper, Des Turner and Andrew Bowden. Weatherley understands that an MP who neglects his core support will struggle to retain the seat in a bad year.  Weatherley is a formidable politician, likely to stick around for many years to come.  Hove is set to become, once again, a safe Tory seat.  This is why Mike Weatherley is the Conservative Politician of the Year.

Paul Perrin of UKIP is not my kind of politician.  For one, he is a member of UKIP.  I am on record as saying I would prefer to stick pins in my eye than vote UKIP.  But Perrin has a slightly obsessive characteristic needed to make a mark on behalf of a party that is going nowhere.  Without the likes of Perrin, it would go somewhere – to deeper, if not permanent obscurity. Perrin blogs and Tweets with great enthusiasm.  He is the only local UKIP activist who I can name, probably because he is the only UKIP activist locally.  But his single-minded determination to fly the UKIP banner in Brighton and Hove means that he is the UKIP Politician of the Year.

Finding a Lib Dem to nominate as Politician of the Year has proven to be a challenge.  There was a temptation to nominate David Watkins simply because he has been deselected by the Lib Dems, not for breaking pledges and promises (that gets you promoted in Nick Clegg’s Lib Dems), but for being basically a decent sort. But the Lib Dem who stood out for me over the last year is its candidate for Brighton Pavilion, Juliet Williams. At one hustings in Brighton Pavilion, she substituted for that constituency’s candidate on the panel. Juliet gave a barnstorming performance, completely on top of her brief, passionate, with grace and humour.  With candidates like her (not forgetting some backbone and principles) the Lib Dems could avoid being trounced at all elections for the next 5 years.  Juliet Williams is the Lib Dem Politician of the Year.

Tomorrow, Labour and the Greens.

Where now for Labour in Brighton and Hove? First it must get over its bitterness

Thursday’s election saw the Labour Party lose all three parliamentary seats in Brighton and Hove, seats they won in 1997 and held in the subsequent two elections.

The results were close, but not close enough.  These defeats come on the back of devastating local elections in 1998.  The Party now faces further humiliation next May when all seats on the City Council are up for election.

So where now for Labour? The three candidates, the impressive Nancy Platts, the demoralised Simon Burgess, and the determined Celia Barlow, will no doubt be extremely disappointed.  All three have worked hard, and when selected would have had reasonable expectations of winning.  Nancy was unfortunate to be up against Caroline Lucas in an historic election and breakthrough for the Green Party.  Simon lacks the killer instinct to win, and (unlike Nancy) was unable to inspire enthusiasm amongst his supporters.  Celia’s fighting instinct came through to limit the Tory majority to just 1,868.

In Brighton Pavilion, Labour risked its reputation and credibility going all out in saying that th Greens could not win.  They were wrong and those who remained with Labour because of this tactic will be unlikely to stay with Labour when they really wanted to vote Green.

The reaction of local Labour leaders shows the Party in a poor light, and is unlikely to win it friends amongst those Labour and Green voters whose loyalty Labour needs to retain.  Leader of the Labour Group on the City Council, Gill Mitchell, is quoted as this being “get real time” for the Greens.  She claims that Labour will be building on the electoral base and that Labour has “strong local representatives who will get things done in the council”.

Who does she think will be believing her dillusional thinking at this time?  The Greens have so much momentum going forward, and the Green councillors (of whom I have been quite critical) are, member for member, far more impressive than their Labour opposite numbers.  If Labour want to make a positive impression locally, they need to have leadership that can inspire, rather than this tepid lot who are yet to recover from 2008 rout.

Labour are in danger of coming across as poor losers.  Former Brighton Pavilion MP, David Lepper, could not have been less magnanimous in the face of his Party’s defeat.  He said: “I believe it is a good move for the career of Caroline Lucas but bad for the party across the city.  I think they expected to win by more votes and citywide they came fourth.  With a hung parliament, a new election could be only six months away and Caroline will have to defend a very small majority of 1,200”.

I disagree with his bitter analysis.  Regardless of the majority, the Greens won and he should have acknowledged the Green’s historic breakthrough.  Should there be a second election later this year, I would predict a majority of 5,000 plus as scores of Labour voters vote for the policies they support – those of the Greens. 

I was most disappointed at Mr. Lepper’s snide comments regarding Ms Lucas’ personal abilities: “I also think she will find the transition from MEP difficult and has to from the politics of grand gestures to the politics of everyday problems”.

Such bitterness is hardly going to inspire traditional Labour supports (like me) to return to Labour.  Faced with a choice of a party full of sour  recrimination, or a party which is full of confidence (and which is opposed to Trident), the choice is not that difficult.

Labour needs to get its act together.  At the next election, I want to see a Labour victory, and from Brighton and Hove I want to see two Labour and one Green MP’s returned.  To my Labour friends I would say, have a moment to mourn your defeats, but then come out fighting.  The opposition for many of us is the Tories.  You seem to think it is the Greens.  Continue like that  Labour will be all but wiped out in Brighton and Hove next May.

There’s more to this election that just Brighton Pavilion. Tactical voting remains so important

I am in danger of presenting the general election as being about just one campaign – that in Brighton Pavilion.  In fact Roy Greenslade, a titan of the newspaper industry (and I do mean that sincerely) almost suggested that when he said on the Guardian’s Greenslade Blog, that this was “a lively blog where the left-of-centre author appears to be enthused by the Green candidate in Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas.

In Hove, it is looking increasingly likely that there will be a Tory win, although Celia Barlow pulled off one of the most amazing results last time by holding the seat.  Greens are suggesting that it is a lost cause for Labour so anti-Tories can vote according to their preference.   Don’t vote Green in Hove, not in this election.  Wait until the Greens have developed their base beyond the solitary but high profile and impressive Alex Phillips.

In Brighton Kemptown Green Ben Duncan is putting up a bit of a show, but he will come nowhere near ousing the anti-Tory challenge of Simon Burgess.  Again, don’t vote Green this time around in Kemptown.  Vote tactically for Simon Burgess.

So in Brighton and Hove, I am advocating tactical voting for Labour in Brighton Kemptown and in Hove, and definitely a tactical vote and a principled vote for the Greens in Brighton Pavilion.

In Hastings in Rye I have always been impressed by the work ethic of Michael Foster who is defending the seat against the Tory, Amber Rudd.  Please give a tactical vote for Labour in Hastings.  Michael may not set the world on fire, but he has been an excellent MP.

In Lewes it has to be the Liberal Democrat, Stormin’ Norman Baker.  If Mandelson is to New Labour what Portillo was to the last Tory Government, then the re-election of Norman Baker will be the worst thing possible for Mandelson.

Finally, the election in Eastbourne is turning nasty where sitting Tory MP Nigel Watersons in real danger of losing to the Lib Dem Stephen Lloyd.  All Labour and Green supporters must vote Lib Dem in Eastbourne.  If Stephen wins, it won’t be the last we will hear of Waterson – he has already threatened to see Lloyd in Court over an election leaflet.  Who would have thought it, nasty politics in Eastbourne.

Labour’s lacklustre performance in Hove and Kemptown could cost it dear

Christopher Hawtree accuses me of underestimating Celia Barlow in Hove after I predicted a Tory win. He writes “She has been about a good deal the past few years. I am not hearing any great enthusiasm for the Tories but people do mention her. The LibDem vote in Hove could be the key factor”.

I sincerely hope that I am wrong and that Celia triumphs once again. I agree she has been a good constituency MP but the size of her majority means that the slightest swing against Labour will see her defeated.

Christopher is also right to say that the Lib Dems could be the key factor.  It would not be the first time that a no-hope campaign by the Lib Dems lets the Tories in.  This is why this blog has consistently called for tactical voting in Hove for Celia Barlow and the Labour Party.

Unfortunately the Labour campaign in Hove is weak.  Celia, for all her hard work, has not galvanised her supportrs (unlike Nancy Platts in Brighton Pavilion who has a bunch of eager supporters willing to turn out in all weathers – even today!).

A Labour defeat in Brighton Pavilion will be in spite of Nancy Platts and her campaign, not because of it.

I had lunch with a Labour activist in Hove the other day.  He decided some time ago to work for Simon Burgess in Brighton Kemptown rather than in Hove.  But that campaign itself has failed to ignite the imagination and he has done little at the very time that all hands are needed in Kemptown.

So I stand by my prediction that the Tories will win Hove, not becaue they deserve to but because of the failure of Labour in that constituency.

Unless Labour gets its act together in Brighton and Hove, the City Council elections next year could be a straight fight between the Tories and the Greens.

Dining Clubs, Donations and Distribution of Funds – an unfair basis for a fair election

The Brighton Argus has published details of who is financing the campaigns in Brighton Pavilion, Brighton Kemptown and Hove, with details of donations going back to 1995.  And it makes quite interesting reading, and requires some questions to be asked.  Who, are what, is the United & Cecil Club?  Or The Winston Churchill Dining Club? Or the Intensive School of English and Business Communication?

The United & Cecil Club makes very generous donations to the campaigns of Conservative candidates Charlotte Vere (£12,000), Simon Kirby (£12,000) and Mike Weatherley (£3,000).  Ms Vere is the poor relation amongst the Tory trio, having raised just £12,000 (although she was only selected late last year).  Simon Kirby  has put over £21,000 of his own money into his campaign but has still enjoyed further support of £17,000 from the Winston Churchill Dining Club.

Mike Weatherley in Hove has received just £2,000 from the Winston Churchill Dining Club, but he has rich friends such as local ‘entrepeneur’ Mike Holland (£5,000), former Tory MP Sir Timothy Sainsbury (you may wish to consider where you do your shopping in future) who has given £7,500, and property developer John D Regan (£5,500).  The biggest personal donation to the Mr Weatherley came from Stewart W Newton (£12,000).

The Lib Dems have received just £6,016 for all three seats, a reflection of their prospects in Brighton and Hove.

Labour’s Simon Burgess has received £33,324, primarily from the Co-operative Party and the GMB Trade Union. Similarly, the majority of Celia Barlow’s £12,495 has come from these two sources and a small donation from the Communication Workers Union.  But what is most significant as far as Labour is concerned is the mere £11,080 donated to Nancy Platts, again from The Co-operative Party, the GMB and £4,500 from Unite. If there was a Pound for Pound comparison for the energy and effectiveness of campaigning, Nancy Platts would win hands down between the three Labour candidates. She deserves to have had the resources channelled to Simon Burgess directed into her campaign.

As for the Greens, they have received £92,914 for their three campaigns.  It is not clear how much has gone into Caroline Lucas’ campaign, but it can be assumed that the majority has gone into Brighton Pavilion.  All the Green’s donations have come from individuals, none from ‘Dining Clubs’.

The Tories have always been funded from shadowy figures, and there remains a lack of transparency.  How much, for example, is being channelled to seats in Brighton and Hove from Lord Ashcroft? Labour candidates have always received funding from trade unions.  Afterall, it was the unions that were largely behind the setting up of the Labour Party.  A little more clarity from the Greens would be welcomed, and a redistribution of campaign funds from Simon Burgess to Nancy Platts would ‘level the playing field’ in Brighton Pavilion.

Overall, this is an unfair situation.  The boys, Kirby, Weatherley and Burgess, have received almost £150,000 between them, while Vere, Platts and Barlow just a total of £37,000.  Lucas is the exception to the rule, but then Brighton Pavilion is that party’s number one (and only?) genuine target seat.

67 days to go, or is it 25? With tactical voting it will be Kemptown Labour, Pavilion Green and Hove …?

Conventional wisdom has it that Gordon Brown will go to the country on May 6th. But Labour friends have hinted that, given the narrowing of the polls (Sunday Times has it down to 2 points although that is probably a rogue poll), Brown might pop in to see the Queen tomorrow in order to have the election on March 25th!

David Cameron’s speech today amounted to little more than raising the bogey of “5 more years of Gordon Brown”, which might prove counter-productive given that Labour now leads the Tories on who people trust to care for the economy. George Osbourne just doesn’t instil confidence.

The “Vote for Change” slogan is rather empty.  Change to what?  Faced with  little of substance (other than not being Brown) when coming to cast their vote, electors will go with the devil it knows (that is other than Brighton Pavilion which increasingly looks like Caroline Lucas of the Greens).

The Greens organisation is really coming together, and the blitz of the constituency this week, well beyond the Muesli Belt, is demonstrating that the Greens, by concentrating on Brighton Pavilion, will almost certainly see the election of the first ever Green MP.

With the closing of the polls, and the concentration of the Greens on Brighton Pavilion, Brighton Kemptown will return Simon Burgess as a Labour MP if other non-Tory supporters vote tactically. As for Hove ….?  My heart goes with Celia Barlow.  What I would welcome is the Greens advocating tactical votes for Labour in Brighton Kemptown and in Hove.  Should they do that, then Labour supporters would be more inclined to vote tactically in Brighton Pavilion.  I just wish that Nancy Platts (I am a big fan) was the Labour candidate in Brighton Kemptown.  With her energy, integrity and enthusiasm, she would win comfortably.

90 days to go until the General Election – Tactical Voting Campaign needed more than ever

If, as expected, the general election takes place on 6th May, there are just 90 days to go until polling day.  It has been said that a general election is decided by less than 100,000 voters, those ‘swing’ voters in key marginals whose votes decide which party gets a majority.  In some constituencies, like Arundel, a monkey with a blue rosette would gain a majority – and in the past it seems that this has happened!

But tactical voting can change that.  Perviously this blog has called for tactical voting in eight of the sixteen Sussex seats.  There is a danger that all sixteen seats could go Conservative, but with tactical voting Sussex could yet return eight non-Conservatives.

The key seats are: Lewes (Tactical vote for the Lib Dem Norman Baker); Eastbourne (again Lib Dem Stephen Lloyd); Hastings and Rye (Labour Michael Foster); Hove (Labour’s Celia Barlow); Brighton Kemptown (tight call between Labour’s Simon Burgess and the Green’s Ben Duncan); Brighton Pavilion (the Green’s Caroline Lucas); Crawley (Labour’s Laura Moffatt); and Worthing East and Shoreham (Labour’s Emily Benn).

This blog previously called for tactical voting in Worthing East and Shoreham for the Lib Dems, but such is the disorganisation and incompetence of that party in West Sussex that it has yet to select a candidate!  The website for the Worthing Lib Dems is one of the most inadequate websites I have ever seen.  The campaigns tag takes you to an empty page! It demonstrates that the Lib Dems cannot be taken seriously as the third party of British politics and should really stand aside in key seats such as Brighton Pavilion and Worthing East and Shoreham.  Therefore, this blog is changing its recommendation and is calling for tactical voting for Labour’s Emily Benn, granddaughter of Tony Benn and niece of Hilary Benn.  Alas, she does not share their politics.

By contrast, the website of the Lib Dem candidate in Worthing West and Arun, Hazel Thorpe, is lively and impressive.  Unfortunately, Hazel (who I personally admire) has little chance of success but nevertheless, this blog urges all Labour and Green supporters to vote tactically for Hazel Thorpe.

My next blog will review the two Brighton seats.

Brighton Politics Blogger hitting an all time low

“Ad hoc, ad loc, et quid pro quo, so little time, so much to know”

Thus spoke the Nowhere Man, that odd little creature in the Beatles film, Yellow Submarine. Today there is so little time and so much to comment on.So I will be brief:

John Terry: Lay off him won’t. He may be an overpaid, self-indulgent individual, but unlike other Premier Division footballers he hasn’t been accused of forcing himself on women, rape, or beating up his partner. Enough, I say.

Ivor Caplin: Former Labour MP for Hove. Having to repay £17k in the Expenses scandall for refusing to respond to questions on his expenses. This on’t hlp Celi Barlow trying to defend her seat.

David Cameron: Making a fool of himself in an interview with the wonderful Johann Hari in today’s Independent. He denied voting against gay marriage, saying he defied the whip, and even when referred to the Hansard record of his vote, he repeated that “his memory” is that he abstained.

Katie Price: Getting married again. I wasn’t invited but as Liza Minnelli said to her mother, Judy Garland, when saying she couldn’t make her sixth wedding, “I promise to come to the next one”.

David Cameron (again): For having George Osborne as his Shadow Chancellor.

Nicholas Soames: For playing the immigration card – he has just realised there is a general election looming.

Brighton Politics Blogger: Shame for bringing blogging to a new low!

Ethical Foreign Policy? I think not

Labour was elected with what Robin Cook described as an ethical foreign policy. He went in protest to war.

New Labour has brought us Iraq and Afghanistan. New Labour has denied that rendition flights had used UK airports and bases. They had. New Labour denies torture allegations. The evidence suggests otherwise.

Labour candidates, if you want the support of old Labour voters like me need to demand that Brown apologises for the wars, for rendition collaboration, and agrees, now, to a public enquiry into torture allegations.

He looked pathetic when caving into demands that the Iraq inquiry be held (at least in part) in public. He is in danger of a repeat performance over torture allegations.

If Labour candidates can’t achieve this now, they should individually denounce New Labours unethical foreign policy and offer apologies to their constituents.

Lets be hearing from you, Nancy Platts, Simon Burgess and Celia Barlow. These are extraordinary and difficult times for Labour. Extraordinary and exceptional actions are required from it’s candidates if they are to have any chance at the elections.

MP’s Expenses

The ‘official’ details of MP’s expenses was published in the last hour. Brighton and Hove’ representatives are shown to have been amongst the most reasonable claimants, none seeking to maximise claims just because it was in the rules.

David Lepper and Des Turner claimed around just half of what others did for staying away from home, and Celia Barlow claimed nothing at all.

All three claimed towards the upper end for office costs and staff. That is something that the public should accept given that all three are diligent and hard working local MP’s. We are lucky to have all three.