East Brighton by-election candidates

The big beasts are lining up to contest the East Brighton by-election. First the Conservatives selected 18 year old Joe Miller, and now the Lib Dems have selected a relative veteran in Dominik Sokalski, a 20-year-old university student at Sussex University.

The Greens last nigh selected its candidate, Carlie Goldsmith, a fifth generation Brightonian who proudly grew up in Whitehawk, in the area, where she also brought up her own young family. She works as a criminologist specialising in youth crime and victimisation, community safety and the relationship between social inequalities and crime.

As yet, there is no news from UKIP, but in an attempt to cause a major upset, it might field the ever youthful, Paul Perrin who, rumour has it, is over 16 years old.

With the Lib Dems holding their conference in a telephone box on the sea front, and the Greens taking a daily pasting in the letters page of the Argus following their massive own-goal over Christina Summers, neither of these parties is likely to inconvenience the Returning Officer too much.

As for the Tories, they seem determined to insult even the police in this week of all weeks. One wonders how the two Posh Boys are being viewed by the Plebs of Whitehawk? (The one thing that amazes me about the Andrew Mitchell, with almost 80% of Telegraph readers thinking he should resign, is that he has survived this long).

And then there is the Labour candidate, Chaun Wilson, who we should refer to simply as ‘The Winner’. 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 look forward to seeing councillor Wilson in action. She will be a huge asset to Labour as it seeks to rebuild in time for the 2015 elections.

Advertisements

Craig Turton: sadness at his resignation as a councillor due to health problems

It was with great sadness that I heard this evening that councillor Craig Turton has been forced to sign his council seat due to ill health. Councillor Turton has been one third of the most formidable team of Labour ward councillors, serving the East Brighton ward with colleagues Gill Mitchell and Warren Morgan.

In a statement, Craig said: “It has been a privilege to have represented the East Brighton ward since 2003 and to have served the people of the Bristol Estate, Craven Vale, Kemp Town, Manor Farm and Whitehawk alongside my dedicated Labour colleagues, Councillors Gill Mitchell and Warren Morgan.

“I have been particularly proud to have served as the chair of the Royal Sussex County Hospital Liaison Group and to have played a part in working with the trust and local residents to see the 3Ts planning application approved.

“I would like to thank all my colleagues, officers at the council, but most importantly the residents of my ward for their continued support during this difficult time.”

Of course it is tragic that any councillor has to stand down in such circumstances, and I am sure all readers will join with me in wishing Craig all the best for the future and hopefully a return to full health.

For Labour, the by-election that will follow Craig’s resignation is the one silver lining on an otherwise cloudy horizon. Labour will comfortably hold the seat. This is down to three factors:

1. Craig’s personal popularity and the circumstances leading to the by-election.

2. The excellent reputation of the other ward councillors in East Brighton.

3. Where we are in the political cycle. Labour is best placed to capitalise on the mid-term unpopularity of the Coalition government and the Green city council.

Few will have much appetite for this by-election so turn out is likely to be low.
Hopefully Labour will select a candidate who will add quality to the Labour Group, as Graham Cox has done for the Tories. The Labour Group is not blessed by an abundance of talent. It needs to select a candidate who can do justice to Craig’s legacy and who can make an impact on the Council.

But this evening, our thoughts and best wishes should be with Craig, a well respected and popular councillor across the Council Chamber.

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.

New Media and Brighton and Hove City Councillors: Welcome to the 21st Century

Brighton and Hove City Council have finally arrived into the age of new media. Ignoring the debate about the new head of media relations, councillors are now allowed to tweet and send emails from the Council chamber as a way of encouraging greater interaction between politicians and the public.

(Incidently, my recent post on the proposed media relations post was criticised by Labour councillor Craig Turton who was quite right when he said “Frankly, BPB this is a lazy posting not worthy of your usual insight.”)

Central Services cabinet member Jason Kitcat has said that this innovation will bring the Council into the 21st century. He said: “Despite the current guidelines, there are members from all parties who are catching up on emails in the Chamber. At the moment live feedback is limited to the small number of people in the public gallery.”

Conservative councillor Mary Mears has long opposed the change. She was quoted by the Argus as saying: “I still do not support it. I believe we are there to represent the city and should be concentrating on what is going on rather than political backstabbing while the meeting is going on.”

Labour and Co-op councillor, active Twitter-user Warren Morgan responded by saying: “Councillors should be focused on the debate but most are quite capable of listening and at the same time tweeting or researching the issue under discussion via the web on their mobile.”

Warren’s statement begs the question: “If most councillors are capable of multi-tasking, who are those who are not capable …?”

So we can all expect more interaction from our politicians which is something I welcome. I personally may not need to attend future council meetings … !

State of the City – Labour

Good and bad things come in threes, so they say. Before my summer sojourn, there was a report entitled ‘State of the City’ prepared by the City Council, loaded with facts and figures. It is well worth a read. Then there was a debate, ‘State of the City’, organised by the other BHCC, the Brighton and Hove Chamber of Commerce, with speakers including Bill Randall, Simon Fanshawe and Roger French.

And now I present the Brighton Politics ‘State of the City’ a review of the political fortunes.

Before I went away I rather tongue in cheek suggested that the top politicians in the City were John Barradell and the Fab Four Super Directors for surviving the change in administration. And still they remain in post and likely to remain so. Here is what I really think.

Starting today with Labour, I have been impressed, as always, with the leadership and determination displayed by the East End ‘Family’. Gill Mitchell has held the group together as they have morphed from being the Labour Group to becoming the Labour and Co-operative Group. Warren Morgan and Craig Turton continue with their best Mitchell Brothers impression, and I for one am determined not to get on the wrong side of them.

Some of the newly elected councillors, not least those in Hove, (Penny Gilbey and Anne Pissadirou), have shown early promise, Penny following in the footsteps of her father, the late George Humphrey, and Anne active in Wish Ward. (She will have to work consistently hard as Wish is now seen as a natural Green target in 2015). A Labour activist that continues to impress is Caroline Penn, on Twitter as @ThePennyDrops – worth following.

But what Labour needs to do locally (because Ed Milliband isn’t doing it for them nationally) is capture the imagination of the people of Brighton and Hove. Labour needs a ‘Big Idea’ that will be seen to be transformational for the City.

Before the local elections, Warren Morgan kept emphasising that Labour was gaining in wards across the City. They may have polled well overall, but they were still a million miles away from forming an administration. If their Big Idea is to wait for the Greens to screw up, they will remain out of power of another decade or more. The Tories are as likely to benefit from a loss of support for the Greens than Labour is.

But the problem for Labour is that it has, since the time of Kinnock, looked almost exclusively to its leader for salvation. But politics has moved on and the electorate are looking for something new, and it isn’t whether Ed or brother David is the one to lead Labour into the next election. Can Labour move beyond the internecine squabbles of recent years? I doubt it in the short term.

What can Labour do that will turn the party’s fortunes around? Perhaps it needs to build a mass base, at it had in the 1980’s before the Kinnockites took over the asylum. Slowly and surely, the life blood was drained from the party. The Party could do worse than engaging once again with those who brought it success, left and right alike – Joyce Edmond Smith, Richard Stanton, Steve Bassam, Gill Sweeting, Andy Winter, etc. Their campaigning ability, their ability to engage with the electorate, is what the Party needs right now.

But there remain elements within the Labour Party that sees activists as a threat. It is fine to have ‘dependable’ people turning out to deliver leaflets, help with telephone banks, and occasionally knock on doors. But they shouldn’t get above and beyond themselves, and certainly should never question the leadership, locally or nationally.

Perhaps I look back on days that cannot be relived and successes that cannot be repeated. This is where I will incurr the wrath of Morgan and Turton. The Greens are the ones with the campaigning ability, the ones who have captured the imagination, and who still enjoy the Big Mo – momentum.

Labour has to decide on its parliamentary candidates in the not too distant future, and which should be all-women shortlists. Conventional wisdom has it that boundary changes will see Labour’s chances erode further in Brighton Kemptown. Brighton Pavilion will be a two-way fight between the Greens and the Tories, leaving Hove as its best chance. The Party leadership looks after its own and has ensured that Hove does not have an all-women shortlist, opening the way for Simon Burgess to become the candidate.

And here again, Labour will get it wrong. As I have always said, Simon is a decent, hard-working type who is an asset to Labour, working in a support role. There are few better. But as a candidate, in what could be a three-way marginal between Mike Weatherley, a Green (particularly a dynamic woman candidate) and Labour, he would be destined to be an also ran.

Perhaps Labour locally will need a further drubbing at the polls before it moves on and finds candidates who can match the appeal of Caroline Lucas and whoever the Greens field in Hove. I have an insight who that might be, and Labour will have little chance of matching her appeal.

Students effect elections, housing and jobs

Since the local elections there has been much comment about the influence of students on the election. In wards like Hollingdean and Stanmer, the Greens were able to organise the student vote, winning two seats from Labour.

Some have commented that it isn’t right that students who are temporary residents in the City can vote in their home town and in Brighton and Hove. In particular some say that it is wrong that the student vote in 2011 will effect how the City is run well after this generation of students have moved on.

My view is that a lively student population enriches the City, and of course they should be allowed to vote. Part of the problem for the old parties is that they have neglected student voters for many years. Caroline Lucas (thanks to the efforts of Allie Cannell) was able to draw on the student vote, ensuring her election.

Nancy Platts, in an interesting post on the blog Southern Front, comments that it is Labour’s lack of vision damaged her electoral chances against Caroline Lucas: “Brighton is a university town with a history of political activism, especially at Sussex University. Student numbers can swing an election in Brighton and tuition fees were a gift to the Greens. How hard can it be to decide where to place your cross on election day when there are three political positions presented; higher tuition fees from the Tories, a free university education from the Greens or, well, er…a ‘review’ from Labour. Did we forget how to do politics – why would any student vote for a review? The Greens consistently targeted the student vote and increased turnout from the universities.” Her post is well worth a read.

Caroline Penn says that she has “nothing against students. I’m sure most of us here were students once. It’s wrong to blame them as you say for many of the issues that have arisen. While friends have had issues with student parties, a more responsible landlord (and better university liaison) should deal with that.”

Craig Turton comments on the impact of students on the local employment market: “Between Brighton and Sussex universities we have one of the largest rates of post graduate student settlement anywhere outside of London but in a relatively small geographical area. This can be beneficial for employers (ie; a virtually permanent pool of highly educated workers) but can equally create problems (ie; competition from graduates leaves local people with few or no educational qualifications at a disadvantage even for jobs not requiring a degree. Without wishing to appear facetious, we probably have the most over qualified call centre workers and bar staff in England).”

Students are a fact of life, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. Where have I heard that before? They student body causes problems, enriches our community, puts huge pressure on housing, and creates unfair competition in the jobs market. But Brighton wouldn’t be Brighton without the students. If you don’t like them, move to Worthing!

Focusing on the issues is so much better than personality politics …. sometimes

I agree with Craig (a variation of the theme ‘I agree with Nick’). Craig Turton, from time to time, criticises this blog for not dealing with the ‘isshoos’, as he says Tony Benn says it.

When, the other day, I posted on the protest camp in the Old Steine, I anticipated comment from the usual suspects, perhaps even from all four of my regular readers (Warren, Grizzly, Doris and Councillor Christopher), but there have been more comments than on any other post ever! Sadly, the tone of one or two comments reflect the intellectual calibre of those who leave comments on the Argus website (pond life). So I agree with Craig. This blog will focus more on issues (although I think many readers do enjoy the personality stuff as well!).

There are a number of pressing issues at the moment, many on a national scale. They are well covered elsewhere, although there is often a local dimension, such as the campaign to protect legal aid which is gathering pace. On the legal aid campaign, there is an excellent website and video and an online petition to sign.  I would encourage you to do so.  Even the Brighton Argus is taking up this issue, there is a strong editorial opposing the proposed cuts. Sometimes an issue such as this can gain momentum and could destabilise the reputations of MPs on the government benches, in our case, Simon Kirby and Mike Weatherley.

What are the other isshoos locally?  There is the Green Party agenda – housing, ‘ethical estate agents’, ‘Meat-free Mondays’, food recycling, ‘retrofitting’ homes (making them more environmentally sound, to you and me), the right to protest.  No doubt Paul Perrin of UKIP will find a reason to say these matters are a European/Green international conspiracy.  In all seriousness, having spoken to senior Greens, the economy of Brighton and Hove is an important issue, not least bringing in appropriate inward investment.  For too long, going back 20 years or more, the City has tried but failed to redevelop key sites in the City – Black Rock, Preston Barracks, the Municipal Market, the Open Market, etc.  There have been some successes, such as the New England Quarter, now in the heart of the Greens’ heartland of St Peters and North Laine.  But wouldn’t it be ironic if it was the Greens who achieved results on these long-neglected sites?

The biggest issue for the Greens, however, is how the cuts imposed by the Tory-led central government will be managed. What has impressed me (apart from Ben Duncan’s ill-advised comment on protests) has been the absence of big statements or initiatives that would be counter-productive.  The Greens would be wise if, as it appears, they are taking their time to set priorities and to come across as measured in how they are addressing the issues.  I hope that Craig agrees with me on this.