Do we have to accept that there will always be minority administrations in Brighton and Hove? by Andy Winter

Little changed in Brighton and Hove as a result of the local elections. Yes, the Green left of centre minority administration was ousted by a Labour left of centre minority, their share of seats roughly reflecting how many the other party had going into the elections. The Conservatives remained roughly where they were, a gain here, a loss there.

Congratulations and good luck to the successful candidates. Commiserations and thanks to those disappointed this time.

Labour and the Greens compete for roughly the same territory. Labour would have hoped to pick up a few extra seats, in Preston Park, Goldsmid and Hanover, whereas the Greens will be aiming to recover the seats they lost in these wards, and in Queens Park, next time.

Before the elections I forecast that the result would be 22 Labour, 22 Conservative, 10 Green. The actual result was 23 Labour, 20 Conservative and 11 Green. I hadn’t predicted the Labour gain in Westbourne or in Central Hove, nor the Green hold in Goldsmid.

So what could change? There are likely to be one or two by-elections. Some candidates, especially those elected unexpectedly, will not have thought about the huge demands there are on councillors, or those who had not realised that other aspects of their lives, particularly careers, must be put on hold for the duration of their terms of office. But even if a couple of seats change hands in by-elections, it won’t change the balance of power on the Council. The last Council saw only one seat change hands in four years, when Emma Daniel took a seat from the Greens in Hanover.

So, let’s look to 2019. Labour will hope to make further gains on the Greens. Depending on how Labour does as the new minority administration, they will benefit or be hindered next time. In a good year they would hope to hold on to what they have and definitely pick up the remaining Green seats in Goldsmid and Preston Park. Further inroads in the remaining strong Green-held wards of Regency and Brunswick and Adelaide are unlikely given this was as bad a bad year for the Greens as could be imagined, and in St Peters and North Laine the loss of this ward is unthinkable. Further Labour gains from the Conservatives are, also, unlikely (unless they can remove the Force of Nature than is Dawn Barnett and Co. in Hangleton and Knoll), and Labour will do well to consolidate their gains in Westbourne and Central Hove. Labour could, realistically, get to 25, possibly 26 seats in 2019.

The Greens will struggle to return to the heady heights achieved in 2011. They used to be a movement but they have become a political party (apart from Caroline Lucas who continues, exceptionally, to attract support from across the party political spectrum). The Greens might pick up a seat here or there, but many of the new Labour councillors are younger, energetic, and will be determined to strengthen, if not increase, their base.

That leaves the Conservatives. There will be some frustration, not least surprise, that seats were lost in Central Hove and, in particular, Westbourne. (On a personal note, I am sorry that my friend, Shaun Gunner, will not be a councillor, for now, at least. Regardless of the party he represents, Shaun is a thoughtful, hard-working and insightful politician. He will, one day, be a respected City Councillor). In a very good year for the Conservatives they will pick up seats in other areas, including in Moulsecoomb (it’s happened twice before) and in the Portslades. They could, just, reach the magic figure of 27, but it would have to be an exceptional year for them.

So in all likelihood, unless there are further demographic changes, or if there is a collapse of one of the three parties in Brighton and Hove, we are likely to see minority administrations for years to come.

Unless, of course, we have a winner-takes-all elected mayor …..!

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Condemning the rent-a-mob antics of the anti-Traveller Tories

As my regular readers (Momma Grizzly, Doris and Biker Dave) know, I am a big fan of Thatcher’s Granny, councillor Dawn Barnett of Hangleton and Knoll. I like her style if not her politics.

But I was disappointed that she apparently led a group of 50 or so to disrupt a constituency surgery of the MP for Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas.

As a child I was always told that there are two areas of political neutrality. The first being the polling station where numbers are collected and shared by agents of each party. There is no political point-scoring and, if you have ever had the huge good fortune to team up on such an occasion with campaigner-extraordinaire, Christopher Hawtree, a fun time is had by all.

The second is the MP’s constituency surgery. This is a relatively modern creation, dating back to the 1970’s and created by theLiberal Party who were re-inventing politics with there concept of ‘pavement politics’. Roy Hattersley quotes one of his predecessors giving a pledge to return to the constituency every three months to report on his work in Parliament. The idea of MP’s becoming super social workers is new. Yet it is important part of their role, yet one that is under-resources necessitating the lovely Momma Grizzly to have a second job packing shelves at Asda.

The MP’s surgery allows constituents, many of whom are troubled, desperate, even distressed, to meet one of their elected representatives. There sometimes needs to be anonymity because of the sensitive issues that might be being brought.

Imagine then, if you will, the sight and noise of 50 protesters ‘dropping in’. Councillor Barnett had been led to believe it was a public meeting. It wasn’t. Mistakes happen and I am sure that had Dawn realised it was a surgery, she would not have disrupted it.

Similarly, councillor Brian Pidgeon was there. I wonder how his constituents from Patcham, who had come to see their MP, felt about him being part of this rent-a-mob.

Why was councillor Barnett there at all? It isn’t in her ward, not even in the constituency within which her ward is located. When I questioned why the People’s Mike was doing more in Brighton Pavilion than in his own constituency, I was told it was because Caroline Lucas wasn’t doing a good job. Anyone who has dealt with Ms Lucas knows that she is an extraordinary dedicated, hard-working and diligent constituency MP.

But I digress. Back to Thatcher’s Granny. Does she feel a need to intervene in the affairs of Patcham ward because the ward councillors are doing such a bad job? If so, Brian Pidgeon should have a word with his Conservative colleagues in Patcham, Geoffrey Theobald and Carol Theobald, rather than inconvenience ordinary citizens by interrupting the MP’s surgery.

The issue of travellers might be contentious, but it does not justify councillors Barnett and Pidgeon acting like lawless hooligans nor using local residents with a genuine, but perhaps ill-conceived, concern regarding Travellers as pawns in their highly politicised campaign against the Green Member of Parliament.

Britain’s first-ever Green Mayor to lead Brighton Naked Bike Ride on 10th June

My regular readers, (Grizzly, Doris and Biker Dave) will know that I am often accused of being a crypto-Green. Indeed the Enigmatic Flo has been known to voice such concerns herself. But not today. I must say that the announcement by Mayor-elect, Bill Randall, that one of his first engagements after standing down as Council leader to become the City’s First Citizen, is not in keeping with the status and dignity of the Mayoralty.

Councillor Randall has announced that he will be leading the Naked Bike Ride on 10th June wearing nothing but the Mayoral Chain.

While Brighton and Hove welcomes all-comers, has a raffish-reputation, and (as councillor Randall likes to quote Keith Waterhouse) a town that appears to be helping the police with their enquiries, there are certain things the Mayor should not do.

Quick to condemn the Mayor-elect was Hangleton and Knoll councillor, Dawn Barnett: “I cannot believe the bare-face cheek of this. I certainly hope he won’t be displaying his wares in Hangleton although if he did visit the ward he might frighten off the travellers.”

Fellow Green Christopher Hawtree said: “Bill Randall is a Rabelaisian sort of chap. Not many councillors would do this, but I believe Bill Randall can pull it off.”

Councillor Randall has defended his decision: “The Brighton Naked Bike Ride is part of the World Naked Bike Ride, an event that celebrates bikes and bodies, protests against car culture and demonstrates cyclists’ power and vulnerability. It’s also great fun! Rides have taken place every June since 2006 but this is the first time the Mayor will have blessed it with his or her presence.

“I am a bit nervous but I am sure that the event will flash by.”

Reflecting on the actions and comments of Francis Maude, Ben Duncan and Dawn Barnett

This week I reflect on three politicians who have captured the headlines for words and actions.

The first is Francis Maude, Cabinet Office Member and MP for Horsham, who encouraged people to store spare petrol supplies in their garage. Other than the danger associated with storing a highly flammable material, it showed how out of touch he is with ordinary people. Just 22% of households have garages. His comments were part of a truly pathetic attempt by the Conservatives to create a diversion to Pasty-gate, the Granny Tax, and other failures from the budget, not least the tax give away to the rich.

Tragically and inevitably someone has got seriously hurt. Maude should resign and Cameron should apologise for his comments and those of his government colleagues over the ‘fuel crisis’.

The second politician is local Green councillor, Ben Duncan, over his four-letter outburst about pasties. Today he has apologised after he realised that local baker, Forfars, which has a shop in his ward, is set to lose £250,000 because of the new tax on pasties and pies.

Ben Duncan said he was just joking: “I’m amazed anyone took my comment seriously and do apologise if it caused any offence. It was a joke that was responding to the news because it’s not the only thing going on in the world. The point I was trying to make was that the debate about pasties is distracting from larger issues.

“Clearly I sympathise with any business that is suffering from the appallingly unfair budget. I would love to go and visit the bakery and sample some of their vegan goods.”

But Ben Duncan is inviting ‘open season’ on himself with a further ill-advised tweet quoted by today’s Argus: “You’ve got to be so careful on Twitter – scumbag journos are watching your every move!”

Even Christopher Hawtree distanced himself from Ben Duncan’s unguarded comments, saying that Ben Duncan is “the Green’s Prince Philip”.

It is said that in politics, worse than being accused of incompetence, is to be ridiculed. I think that councillor Hawtree has just ridiculed his Green colleague.

My third and final comment relates to Conservative councillor Dawn Barnett. Police had to ask her to leave a site in her ward and next to where she lives where an unofficial travellers camp has been set up. Police advised her to go home for her own safety.

It may come as surprise to my three regular readers, Biker Dave, Momma Grizzly and Doris, as well as to my latest follower, the Enigmatic Flo, that I will continue to defend councillor Barnett, although I have fundamental differences with her on the issue of travellers.

I don’t know whether councillor Barnett was doing anything to provoke a breach of the peace. I believe that councillors must be able to go about their business without hindrance, particularly in the ward they represent. If councillor Barnett’s safety was at risk, the police must put in place measures to protect her.

She should be allowed to visit the site of the travellers and her well being must be safeguarded. If she was to commit an offence (and I doubt she would) then the police should take action against her. Her mere presence is not cause to ask her to go home.

Perhaps councillor Duncan, as the Cabinet Member for Public Protection, will use his good offices to ensure that a fellow councillor can go freely about her business .

After the nasty attacks on Christopher Hawtree, I am considering closing down this blog

I have seriously considered closing down this blog over the last few days.  I have several reasons for this but uppermost in my mind is the tone of the debate over libraries and, in particular, the nasty personal attacks on councillor Christopher Hawtree.

The library issue, as with everything to do with the budget of Brighton and Hove City Council, is fraught with difficulties, and ethical dilemmas for those involved. But attacks on an individual’s integrity is not acceptable.

We should also remember that no party is immune from some culpability in what is happening:

  • The Tories and Lib Dems are imposing cuts of 35% on the City Council. There are alternatives, but this is a government with an ideological commitment to cutting government. That is a political choice.
  • Labour failed to maintain confidence of the electorate, are not mobilising opposition, are more interested in who should lead their party, and they are failing locally and nationally to provide a viable alternative to the cuts agenda.  Nationally, their political choice is to make cuts but not as quickly.
  • The Greens have made the political choice to form the administration locally, and to best manage the level of cuts imposed on them.

Within each party there are honourable people trying to do their best.  For many it is a question of compromise which, after all, is the most common feature of politics.  For some, it might lead to resignation.

I find it unacceptable to question, in such personal terms, the integrity, morality, even the mental health, of someone who is struggling with issues. I can only conclude that those who indulge in this political form of bear baiting have no positive policies or proposals of their own. It says more about them than the target of their vitriol.

We are fortunate to have the likes of councillor Hawtree in Brighton and Hove, just as we are fortunate to have the likes of the Hangleton Twins (Barnett and Janio) and many others who sacrifice a great deal to stand to become and then serve as councillors. Let us start all debate by recognising this, and then, by all means, question the policies being implemented, but keep the debate about policy, priorities and alternatives, or as Craig Turton always says, stick to the ishoos. 

I once referred on this blog to Thumper from Bambi who said “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say anythin’ at all”.  There are some who could learn from Thumper.

I am still considering whether or not to close down this blog.

The Brighton Politics Blogger’s Political Awards 2011

As the year draws to an end, it is time once again for the much sought after Brighton Politics Blogger’s Political Awards.

Team of the Year must go to the Green Party for becoming the first Green Administration in the UK. It was hard to see how that party could have followed up their achievement of having elected their first-ever Member of Parliament in 2010.

Campaigner of the Year goes to an Honorary Brightonian who was a leading campaigner in the ‘No’ campaign in the electoral reform referendum, Charlott Vere. She was hardly out of the news and made a barnstorming speech in Brighton during the referendum campaign. Chuck is much missed locally but will no doubt continue her inevitable journey into Parliament at the next election.

For his constant production of press releases, the His Master’s Voice Award goes to Michael Ireland, researcher for Hove MP, Mike Weatherley. Rarely a day goes by without another press release popping up in my inboThe most Inspired Campaign of the Year goes to the Labour Party for LOLA, the Leave Our Loos Alone campaign, to save public toilets from closure.

The Trend Setters Award goes to …. the Labour Party of the early 1990’s for starting the public toilet closure programme in Brighton.

The Hundred Year War Endurance Award goes to Steve Bassam and Jason Kitcat for their Twitter exchange on the Council Budget. It might not have gone on for a hundred years but sometimes it has felt that way to those of us who have read and reflected on each and every tweet!

The Individual Award for an Outstanding Election Result was closely fought. The panel of judges commended Sue Shanks for her victory in Withdene and Graham Cox for his Westbourne by-election result, but the award goes to Christopher Hawtree for his stunning individual performance in Central Hove.

The Dear Leader’s Award for Winding Up the Opposition (or on this occasion, winding up the Administration) goes to Tony Janio for wearing his Stars and Stripes tie at meetings of the Full Council.

And in spite of the judgement of the ridiculous ‘Standard’s Committee’, the Champagne Campaigning Moment goes to Dawn Barnett for her stunt in directing travellers in her ward to open spaces in Green-held wards.

The final award, the Who Got It Totally Wrong Award, goes to your Humble Blogger for getting the result of the Westbourne by-election totally wrong.

Congratulations to all award winners. Bask in the glory of your awards, and best wishes to all my readers (Momma Grizzly, Doris, and Biker Dave) for 2012.

Dawn Barnett found guilty – a day of shame for the City’s political processes

Conservative councillor Dawn Barnett has been found guilty by Brighton and Hove City Council’s ‘Standards Committee’ of bringing her office or the local authority into disrepute. In the summer councillor Barnett handed out letters to travellers camped in her Hangleton and Knoll Ward directing them to open spaces in Green-held wards.

A full write up of the hearing can be found in Brighton and Hove News, and excellent and up to the minute online newspaper serving Brighton and Hove.

Until now I have not named the councillor who made the complaint. I had hoped that he would withdraw it. The complaint was made by Green councillor Phelim MacCafferty, who represents Brunswick and Adelaide ward. I actually think Phelim is a lovely man but that he got this one wrong. The use of the ‘Standards Committee’ system is unnecessary. Political differences should be sorted out politically rather than using a procedural process designed to silence dissenting voices. I am delighted that the days of the Standards system are numbered.

If there is one silver lining to this cloud it is that no sanction is being imposed on Dawn Barnett. I am just sorry that she, as with Jason Kitcat and Averil Older before her, have been subjected to the stress of such a hearing.

I conclude by quoting the Tory MP for Hove, Mike Weatherley: “The standards committee is not a forum to stifle freedom of expression based on political disagreements.” Absolutely right. I hope that this discredited system is not used again in Brighton and Hove.