Stormin’ Norman and the Curse of the Coalition Government

I’m not one for making predictions, as my regular readers (Warren, Momma Grizzly, Councillor Christopher, and Biker Dave) will testify, but I have a premonition about the future fortunes of the Lib Dem Member of Parliament for Lewes, Norman Baker. I can feel it it my waters that his time on the Green Benches (the colour, not the party) may be limited.

Actually, there is speculation about his future in several quarters, not least in the pages of Latest 7 magazine and in Brighton and Hove News in articles written by one of the nicest and most principled journalists around, Frank le Duc.

So why should Stormin’ Norman’s future look so uncertain? Well, for a start, he is a Lib Dem, and as my regular readers (the said WM, MG, CH & BD) will know, I have had my doubts about the Lib Dems. Apart from being untrustworthy, lacking backbone, two-faced, unprincipled, deserving to be confined to the dustbin of history, I think they are rather a decent bunch.

The Lib Dems are facing meltdown at the next general election for several reasons:

For helping to create the Coalition Government and thereby allow the Tories to run the country without a mandate;

For betraying their pledge on tuition fees;

For standing by while the privatisation of the NHS has begun;

etc. etc. etc.

And Stormin’ Norman’s part in this is not great. He betrayed his own written pledge on tuition fees, he agreed to become a Minister in this government that is implementing policies that were not in either party’s manifesto nor in the Coalition Agreement, and his government is bumping up rail fares (something that will not go unpunished by commuters in the Lewes constituency). On the issue of rail fares, Stormin’ Norman not only remained silent, he is the Transport Minister responsible for rail!

But it isn’t all bleak for him, as Frank le Duc has suggested, Lord Baker of Lewes is a likely reward for his loyal service to the Coalition. However, that would be a sorry end for someone who inspired so much hope as an anti-establishment MP in his early career.

What prospects are there for a Green/Labour coalition?

Mary Mears is saying to anyone who is willing to listen that she wishes Labour and the Greens well in their soon to be announced coalition. She hints that a deal has already been reached between Gill Mitchell (Leader of the Labour Group) and Bill Randall (Convenor of the Greens).

To be or not to be …. a coalition, that is, is one of the most intriguing questions in local politics. I am sure that councillor Mears might be just a tad disingenuous in her statements. “Vote Labour, get Green; vote Green, get Labour” she might as well be saying. She knows what a wind-up this is for Labour and Green activists alike. Naughty Mary.

But leaving Green and Labour activists to one side for a moment, the Lovely Dani has been pondering the prospects post May 5th: “I hope a Labour/Green coalition (or some kind of agreement) will be achievable too. I am intrigued to see how this pans out. A Green-led council in Brighton & Hove could be a rallying point for the anti-cuts movement across the country, if councillors are prepared to stick to their principles. Or it could be a disaster (see the tragic outcome of Green participation in a coalition government at national level in Ireland).”

But Dani, you have already named the elephant in the room that will have Warren Morgan spluttering over his Sugar Puffs – that there will be a Green-led council. Warren and his colleagues are adamant that Labour is on the cusp of a great victory, and that the Greens are in decline. What hope is there of a coalition should Labour fail in its recovery? Will they continue with the Big Sulk that has characterised its response to the last locals and the 2010 defeats?

Warren shows the hostility towards the Greens by rubbishing that Party’s commitment to the return of the Committee system within Brighton and Hove City Council: “I’m afraid this is another Green manifesto pledge which sounds good but which is alreadty in place and which they have no way of implementing independently.

Warren goes on: “Actually, holding a coalition council together under the committee system would in practice be harder, as the Greens would need to whip their councillors to vote with their administration in every committee and in council. Currently they allow their members a free vote on every issue. If an administration can’t carry its policies through committee and at council it will be at risk of division and of falling at every stage.”

Dani, with her characteristically optimistic outlook, responded: “It’s good to know this is an ambition the Labour group shares. I think a formal coalition between Greens and Labour will be difficult to hold together under any circumstances. That’s why I think a less rigid set of agreements on particular issues and open debate in committees might have a better chance of working in practice.

“With a leader & cabinet system, there’s going to have to be a divvying up of cabinet seats between two parties and a more sustained level of joint working.

Craig Turton responds to Dani’s comment that “a formal coalition between Greens and Labour will be difficult to hold together under any circumstances.” he writes: “Who knows? I was the only member of the Labour Group after the elections 4 years ago who proposed and voted for a coalition with the Greens. Would I do it again?” This is where the deepening divisions between Labour ane the Greens are revealed: “After 4 years of watching some of the Greens’ antics, I’m not so sure. Labour and Greens have far more in common than some in both Partys pretend in public. I have huge respect for some individual Greens, particularly Amy (Kennedy) and Bill (Randall) but holding a coalition together requires compromise, discipline, flexibility and honesty. Should the election reveal the Council is in No Overall Control, then both Labour and Greens need to reflect on these qualities which will be required in order to work together for the common purpose of serving the people of our City.”

These are wise words, but the Greens approach to whipping might be a critical factor in undermining a coalition, an approach explained by the Green’s Luke Walter “Warren knows full well that Green councillors come to a consensus decision, rather than being told how to vote by whips (and sometimes the Westminister Labour front bench or those sitting in Labour HQ).”

So what do I think? Given that I think that the Greens will end up with between 20 and 22 seats, and that Labour will end up with around 13 seats (win some, lose some), leaving around 21 Tories, some sort of compromise will be needed.

Some Greens are more than willing to work with Labour, but there are a few that might be too purist, perhaps not mature enough (in attitude not years) to understand that to achieve things in politics you sometimes have to compromise.

Within Labour, much depends on who will survive the cull of councillors. There are a couple who find it hard to remain civil even to colleagues in their own party, while others (as I have said previously) retain a pathological obsession with the Evil Princess and All Her Works, including her Green councillors. On the whole, it is Labour councillors who need to change most – accept that they will have been rejected in three elections in a row and that there is a new political order in town. That, in my mind, is the single greatest obstacle to a successful Green-led/Labour coalition.

St Peter’s and North Laine: Why the Lib Dems deserve to be humiliated

The Libe Dems are standing Trefor Hunter as its candidate in the St Peter’s and North Laine by-election on July 8th. In the latest Lib Dem ‘Focus’ newsletter that I understand is being distributed around the ward this weekend, Hunter attacks the Greens for failing to deal with congestion and pollution.

As someone who has fought and lost more elections than just about anyone else in Brighton over the last 30 years, Mr Hunter must surely be aware that the Greens have never formed the administration in Brighton and Hove.  In fact, his party’s coalition partner, the Conservative Party, are the administration locally and nationally.  He writes “Decades ago residents elected their first Green Councillor, but what difference has it really made?”.  Actually, quite a lot, and if we achieve a 20mph speed limit in Brighton I for one will be delighted.

The more relevant question is what difference does voting Lib Dem make?  In Brighton and Hove they are an absolute irrelevance.  In Brighton Kemptown and in Hove, they split the anti-Tory vote that saw two Labour candidates defeated and the election of two Conservatives.  Nationally, millions voted tactically or positively for the Lib Dems as a way of voting against the Conservatives.  What happened?  The Lib Dems jumped into bed with the Tories.  The sight of Vince Cable bumbling and stuttering through feeble and half-hearted defences of his party’s total sell-out of his policies, his sound economic analysis and his principled stand on the banks, is pitiful.  Actually it is beneath contempt.

If I had a vote in the St Peter’s and North Laine by-election, would I vote Lib Dem?  Give me an honest Tory any day. At least you know what you can expect from them.  The Lib Dems deserve to be truly humiliated in the by-election and in each test of voter opinion up to and beyond the next general election.