The campaign in Queens Park is getting lively and turning nasty!

Labour’s Tom French alleges that Green Queens Park councillor Ben Duncan was “slated by member of public for not attending 6 Police Authority meetings”.  Really?  The public no less.  Everyone of them?  Tom French then says that the Tories  “refuse to protect local bus services in Queen’s Park”.  The infamous, number 81 no less, the one with ‘Brian Fitch’ on the front.  He calls on another Green councillor, Jason Kitcat, to support the campaign to save the number 81.  Councillor Kitcat replies “if valued bus services are being actually cut then I’d be very very worried. But no firm signs of that yet”.  Then councillor Kitcat says “AFAIK”. What could he possibly mean?

The Queens Park campaign is likely to be one of the liveliest in the city.  The three Labour candidates, media-savvy Tom French, local community activist-extraordinaire Chris Cooke, and the other one (the lovely Dan Chapman) are hard workers, part of the new breed of Labour activists who lack electoral experience (which is a good thing given the tired out hacks on the council radiate doom and defeat). 

But up against them is the Green Dream Team, sitting councillor Ben Duncan (who cares if he misses the occasional meeting – focus on your own campaign, Tom French.  Attacking a popular and hardworking councillor like Ben Duncan makes you look shallow).  Steph Powell, a youth worker, is energetic and personable, and offers an alternative to voters because it is rumoured she is not a gay man!  Again it is rumoured that Labour tried to recruit her as recently as November.  Geoffrey Bowden, the Sussex Square, matches Tom French in his use of new media.  He is a communications consultant, no less. 

Queens Park was the outstanding result last time for the Greens.  Ben Duncan, the very popular Rachel Fryer and the much respected Paul Steedman ousted Labour’s leadership on the Council, Simon Burgess, Ken Bodfish and Delia Forrester.  Ben beat Delia by a mere 15 votes, but it would be wrong to think that a small swing to Labour nationally will even things up and allow Labour back in.  Rachel, Paul and Ben have consolidated the Greens position and the Greens could be on the verge of being the natural party to represent Queens Park.

But one shouldn’t forget Chris Cooke who has been everywhere in Queens Park over the last few years, with a profile as high as that of an active councillor.  We could get a split decision here.  My prediction is that Queens Park will return 3 Greens or 2 Greens and one Labour councillor.  No wonder it is a lively battle, and no wonder it is getting dirty!

Queens Park: One of three key seats that will decide the Council in May 2011

Queens Park provided a complete body blow to Labour at the last local elections when three of its most senior members were beaten by the Greens.  Green Rachel Fryer topped the poll with a massive 1,826 votes, followed by Paul Steedman (1,549) and Ben Duncan (1,473).  The top Labour candidate was Delia Forrester just 15 votes behind Ben Duncan on 1,458 votes.  Former leader of the Council, Ken Bodfish was fifth (1,455) and the then Leader of the Council and Labour’s prospective candidate in Brighton Kemp Town, Simon Burgess (1,418).  The introduction of the School Place Lottery cost Labour dear.  The nice folk on East and West Drive didn’t want their darlings mixing with the ruffians from the Council estates.

This result was the low point for Labour at this election, and symbolised the unpopularity of the Labour Council.  The Greens had hoped to win one of the three seats, but won all three.  The three new councillors have worked very hard, are widely respected, and would expect to win all three again next May.  But there is a potential problem.  At one point it looked as though all three would be standing down in May, but they are reconsidering their positions.  Ben Duncan is definitely standing. He is probably the most high profile of the three, although both Rachel and Paul are highly respected within the ward and beyond.  I personally hope that at least one, if not both, will be on the ballot paper with Ben in May.

The Greens must hold all three seats in Queens Park if they are to become the largest party on the Council.  Even if Rachel and Paul don’t stand, the reputation of the Green Party in this ward should see them home.

For Labour, the three young men selected (Dan Chapman, Chris Cook and Tom French) will no doubt put in a strong performance, but their appeal will be limited. All three would hope to poll well in the gay community, but  Ben Duncan has a strong track record on campaigning on LGBT issues in the ward and beyond.  The Queens Park mafia broke the local party, and there is little enthusiasm or campaigning experience within the local Labour Party.  The unpopularity of Bodfish Forrester and Burgess might continue to be reflected in May’s poll.

Queens Park will be one of the key seats in May, and the result here will provide an indication whether Labour has turned the corner or whether its decline is still terminal.

I would like to see the Greens become the largest Party, not because I am a Green but because I think the Greens have the most energy and ideas locally.  Labour has had its opportunity and don’t deserve to get back in, not yet, anyway.