Can’t I leave you alone for just a couple of months without everything falling apart?

What on earth have you been up to while I’ve been away? Can’t I leave you alone for just a couple of months without riots, the collapse of a media empire, and further financial crises? And I hear rumours that a Green councillor has reported a Tory to the Standards Committee – tradition has it that it should be Tories referring Greens?

The riots were as predictable as they were tragic, and there will be more. Super-cops from New York are unlikely to understand what is happening in our inner cities, where second and third generations of unemployed, poorly educated, and alienated youths have little at stake in society, nothing to lose and some immediate gains to be made. “It’s our ‘pay day'” as one looter described it.

Much of the rioting was negative destruction and much of the looting was purely criminal. But to dismiss it as only that is wrong. It was also a political statement, with thousands of young and older people expressing their detachment from the norms that govern. How is it that after years of a Labour government, there are large numbers of young people so disillusioned that they are willing to destroy their own communities?

What surprised me was how quickly the rioting began under the Conservative-led coalition. I thought that it would be next year, in the run up to the Olympics, once many of the cuts had begun to bite and the ‘undesirables’ had begun to be moved off the streets, that anger would boil over.  I think tthat remains a possibility.

The saddest part of the rioting and the appalling arson attacks, attacks that I condemn without equivocation, is the unlikelihood of investment going into these areas which will become more deprived and greater restrictions placed on the movement of youths around our capital and other cities.

As for riots in Brighton and Hove, I did hear a report on Twitter that there had been a tense standoff and a near riot in Brunswick Square when Waitrose ran out of organic peaches.

As for the Murdoch’s and News International, I did feel ever so sorry for them.  Afterall, who hasn’t gone in for a bit of phone hacking?  How do you think I get some of my not-so-exciting scoops?  But I realise I must apologise for my past excesses, for revealing the Sugar Puffs breakfast habits of Warren Morgan, exposing Lady Everton’s secret identity, exploiting the torments of the Estate Agent, and splashing scoops on the party life of Momma Grizzly.  I do apologise to each and every one of you. This is the most humble day of my life.

And who has been picking on poor Dawn Barnett? I thought that her initiative to provide travellers with directions to Green wards was a great political stunt.  Of course it will not deal with the challenges posed by travellers in the city, but it is not worthy of a referral to the Standards Committee.  I have always opposed the Standards system.  It was wrong when Jason Kitcat was referred to it, and it ill-becomes other councillors, particularly a Green councillor (if the rumours are to be believed) for making such a complaint.

So what else has happened while I’ve been away?  Not much news reached Tuscany this year.  Our neighbours, the Cameron family, packed up and left in a hurry.  Dave C (who was seen walking around in t-shirt, sandals and messy facial hair – I initially mistook him for Luke Walter, the best councillor Brighton doesn’t have) was heard muttering something along the lines “I will kill Boris …”.

I hope you have had a good summer.  I have had a relaxing time.  Now back to business …

As Dawn becomes a traveller, Mary & Geoffrey kiss and make up, I’m off on my summer holidays

It’s been a great six months in Brighton politics with the local elections resulting in a seismic shift in the political landscape. The next couple of months is likely to be a quieter period as people go on their summer holidays and the business of the Council and of Parliament eases off.

I have realised I should have been an MP. I am so attracted to the length of the summer recess. In order to experience part of the life of an MP I have decided to go off on my travels for a couple of months. What will I find when I return?

Will Dawn Barnett have resigned her seat and gone off with a convoy of Travellers? Will there be cannabis cafes on every street corner in Brighton Pavilion? Will Labour activists have learned to love Caroline Lucas? Will Momma Grizzly have discovered she is in the wrong party and have joined the SWP? Will Mary and Geoffrey have kissed and made up? Will Meat-free Monday have given way to Sizziling Steak Saturday? And most importantly, will John Barradell’s Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse get in touch with their feminine sides?

Enjoy your summer and see you in September.

Praying for peace and harmony between Jason and Grant, and Dawn and the Travellers

What a love-in. Jason and Grant. A marriage made in heaven. Grant tweets support for Jason, and Jason writes in almost affection terms of Grant. Actually, I imagine that they would both say it would be a civil partnership created in hell. For today, the Cabinet Member for Finance and Central Services on Brighton and Hove City Council, Jason Kitcat, called in on the Minister for Housing and Local Government, Grant Shapps.

They chatted fondly of ‘Videogate’ when Jason was hauled through the Standards Committee for posting extracts from a council meeting on You Tube. Grant recalled Tweeting a message of support.

Not all the meeting went according to plan. Grant declined to make more money available to Brighton and Hove, as well as letting on that he felt councillors and MP’s should not be paid anything! There is a short report on Jason’s visit to the Department for Communities & Local Government on his blog.

Perhaps Jason would have been more successful had he heeded the advice from Pal Perrin and attended prayers before Council meetings. Paul writes: “I think a moment of contemplation, reflection (or ‘prayers’) before meetings should be compulsory. An opportunity for our representatives to remind themselves that they are servants not leaders (whether or not they are religious) – if they want to lead they need to persuade the public and then follow them!” If it is of any comfort to Bill Randall, I pray for him every night! I am sure he will gain strength for that.

For good measure, Paul, who is on a one man crusade to hold the Green administration to account, asks: “So how is this absurd meat free mondays thing going?”. The other day I chanced upon the Greens answer to Delia Smith, councillor Amy Kennedy, but no mention was made of meat free Mondays. In the best tradition of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, I have become vegetarian on Mondays. I only cook Lamb.

There has been. Some comment on Dawn Barnett and her intervention on travellers. You will recall that Dawn visited a travellers camp in her ward and gave them written directions to Green wards. Zombie writes: “I am surpised Dawn Barnett has been allowed to get away with all she has done, relatively unchallenged. She has incited tresspass elesewhere in Brighton. She has tried to straightjacket councillors into attending prayers on a like it or not basis (most Lab councillors didn’t attend prayers in the 70s with no fuss made).” I think I should start praying for Zombie, as well.

Zombie continues: “Some Labour councillor (Brian Fitch where are you?) could have stood up for local residents less stridently and in a less inflamatory way.Someone could have stood up for freedom of expression and thought. Labour has been inept and cowardly and has allowed Dawn Barnett and Tories like Mike Weatherly and Geoffrey Theobald to do all the running in making political hay, while the Greens pile on error after error. The Greens will learn or be overwhelmed. Labour will deserve to disappear from political life in B & H if it cannot speak a lot louder than it has been of late.”

While disagreeing with what Dawn Barnett did, I do admire the sheer cheek of what she has done, and other councillors could be well advised to show some imagination in their campaigning.

Are Labour and the Tories ‘doing politics’ better than the Greens

Momma Grizzly cares! Earlier this evening she left a message on this blog with the simple question: “Are you still alive, Baps?”

Indeed I am but from time to time I am not in a position to post. However, the last week has been interesting. Mike Weatherley has been active (well supported by Grizzly, Mike Ireland and Robert Nemeth). He has been trying to take the political initiative on anti-social behaviour, dilapidated ‘heritage’ signs in Hove, calling for the Olympic flame to come not just to Brighton but also to Hove, has called for the new Green Administration to “get tough on travellers, squatters and quasi-protesters who are vandalising parts of Brighton & Hove”, suggested greater courage in architectural issues, and called on people to give blood!

So why this activity? Well Mike has always been an active MP but he must see that the advance of the Greens into Hove as a threat to his re-election.

The Greens are not doing themselves many favours as they have fed Mr Weatherley issue after issue – protest camp in the Old Steine, invitation to demonstrators, etc. The latest is the call by Caroline Lucas to decriminalise drugs could yet be spun by Mike, although I suspect he is not a million miles away from Ms Lucas on this issue. But it is an issue that does not play well with the public.

The Greens need to ensure that they maintain the initiative otherwise they will be bashed at every turn. But the transformation from opposition into an administration is not an easy one. New portfolios need to be taken on, briefs understood, and invitation after invitation to be responded to. Time to do politics is being squeezed.

But doing politics is what the Greens need to do. It is easy to be seduced by office. But the Greens have offered a new style of engagement – openness and engagement, but already here are murmerings that some Cabinet members have become remote and communication within the council are not easy, in spite of what the Greens wish to achieve.

Labour and Tory councillors are putting themselves around and are presenting themselves as accessible to the community. This is not difficult while in opposition. One or two councillors have undertaken some publicity-catching initiatives, such as Dawn Barnett who visited travellers in her ward to give them directions to sites in wards represented by Green councillors. Dee Simpson, too, has shown some populist campaigning with the launch of a petition.

There is scope for the Greens, particularly those not in the Cabinet, to maintain the populist touch. They need to be the match for the newly liberated Tory councillors and the long liberated Labourites. The Greens should allow their non-Cabinet colleagues to have freedom to raise issues, even those for which fellow Greens are responsible.

The Greens are yet to reach their peak – next stop Hove and Portslade

I thought that the Greens would do well in Thursday’s elections, and they did. But I had doubts where that Party goes next. I felt that there were certain limitations to their reach. I was sure that the Geens would extend their reach to the maximum at this election, and then the challenge would be to hold that position at the next general election (no difficulty there) but defending their council seats might be a challenge. I have changed my mind because of the results on Thursday.

In Brighon Pavilion, the Greens are now challenging in the Tory heartlands. The Normans, Anne and Ken, will not stand again in Withdene and the Greens, having won one seat and having come close in a second, will have high hopes of winning all 3 seats in May 2015. In Hollingdean and Stanmer, Jeane Lepper, now the sole Labour councillor in Brighton Pavilion, will not stand again, leaving the way open for Luke Walter to join Sven Rufus and Christina Summers on the Council.

And there is the final frontier, Pacham. The Theobald Machine held firm once more, but with a local council election being held on the same day as a probable general election, everything is up for grabs. And will any of the current three councillors stand again? Brian Pidgeon will retire, and Carol and Geoffrey Theobald must be considering when it will be the right time to call time.

Three years and 363 days out I am making this prediction – the Greens will win EVERY seat in Brighton Pavilion in 2015.

I will comment on Brighton Kemptown at a later date, but I think that, for the Greens, Hove and Portslade is where their future lies. After Thursday, the Greens have 6 seats, Labour have 6, and the Tories 8 seats. The Greens have consolidated its first and only seat in Goldsmid where Alex Phillips led a strong campaign to win a seat off the Tories and to defeat Melanie Davis who was a strong candidate and respected councillor.

But it is Christopher Hawtree’s breakthrough in Central Hove that changes everything. That single gain shows what is possible, and the Greens must already have begun to eye Westbourne, Wish, and the other seat in Central Hove. The Portslades, North and South, have similar demographics to Hollingdean and Stanmer, and both will become vulnerable should (as is likely) both Bob Carden and Les Hamilton stand down in 2015.

And then there is Hangleton and Knoll, a large ward which, again, like Hollingdean and Stanmer, is an area where the Greens could thrive. Dawn Barnett and Brian Fitch are no longer spring chickens, and won’t go on and on and on. Does Brian have another campaign in him (probably) but will he want to be a councillor, should he be re-elected in 2015, will be approaching 80 at the end of that term in office.

So why all this speculation about 2015? If the Greens begin building in Hove, establishing a local organisation in each of these wards (don’t fall for Labour’s mistake and run everything from a High Command), and get a dynamic parliamentary candidate in place sooner rather than later, who can support, motivate, encourage, nurture the party in Hove, then there will be a further Caroline Effect, although it could come to be known as the Alex Effect …..

The polls have closed: the Greens to get better result than expected

The polls have closed and it looks as though the next 24 hours will be more fascinating than all the speculation that has gone before. The count will start tomorrow morning (although the verification of the number of votes cast is happening this evening).

The warm weather and the very high turnout for a local election leads me to conclude that there will be some extraordinary results tomorrow.

For all their bluster, the Tory campaign in East Brighton faded before it got going, with party members being redirected to Moulsecoomb and Bevendean where, contrary to Craig Turton’s suggestion earlier in the day, the Tories scent victory – one of their few hopes of gains. M&B is definitely one to watch tomorrow at the count.

The Greens are very confident in Preston Park, and are quietly confident of a very good result in Goldsmid. Brunswick and Adelaide could be a split result. Paul Elgood may just hold on but his running mate won’t be making a victory speech tomorrow. Central Hove is fascinating, and I just don’t know what will happen there. But Withdene and even Patcham will produce good results for the Greens, but probably no actual seats although Withdene may just …..

North Portslade and South Portslade are looking good for Labour, and Brian Fitch could be looking at a dramatic return to the Council chamber, representing Hangleton and Knoll, along with Dawn Barnett and Tony Janio for the Tories.

Overall, though, the winners are going to be the Greens. Several Labour activists have told me that the Green vote has been firm, and whe they might have hoped to have picked up votes in a split household, the votes a going Green. The prospect of the first Green council in the UK has inspired people to vote Green. It seems as though the people of Brighton Pavilion like being the first constituency to have elected a Green MP. So now it seems as though more widely in Brighhton and Hove the electorate is wanting to see the election of the first Green Council. Neither the Tories or Labour have been able to offer anything as aspirational.

Whether the Greens make it across the winning line and achieve 27 councillors is another matter. While today will produce better than expected results for the Greens, whether they can secure five more than the 22 I have predicted is another matter.

If they do achieve 27 seats, then the opposition parties must not block the election of a Green mayor who would give the Greens the casting vote in the Council Chamber. The people of Brighton and Hove will have spoken.

Reasons to be Cheerful … for 39 candidates in Thursday’s elections

‘Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3’ by Ian Dury and the Blockheads was released in July 1979, shortly after Margaret Thatcher had been elected Prime Minister. Cut, cut, and more cuts was the order of the day. On that occasions the Tories were able to make cuts to their hearts content. They didn’t have to rely on those disgraceful, turncoats, the Lib Dems, to help them. (I have gone for more than a week without a cheap comment about the Lib Dems – is this a record?).

But there are a number of people, 39 to be precise, who have reasons to be cheerful – those who I am confident will be elected (whatever the weather and their positions on the ballot papers). Some campaigns are too close to call, and in some wards I am only predicting one or two winners. The figures in brackets are the number of seatsup for election.

Brunswick & Adelaide (2) – too close to call

Central Hove (2) – too close to call

East Brighton (3) – a Labour 1, 2, 3: Gill Mitchell, Warren Morgan, Craig Turton

Goldsmid (3) – Melanie Davis, Alex Phillips (Labour, Green)

Hangleton & Knoll (3) – Dawn Barnett, Brian Fitch (Tory, Labour)

Hanover & Elm Grove (3) – a Green 1, 2, 3: Matt Follett, Bill Randall, Liz Wakefield

Hollingdean & Stanmer (3) – Jeane Lepper, Sven Rufus, Christina Summers (Labour, Green, Green)

Hove Park (2) – a Tory 1, 2: Jayne Bennett, Vanessa Brown

Moulsecoomb & Bevendean (3) – Maria Caulfield, Ayas Fallon-Khan (Tory, Tory)

North Portslade (2) – Bob Carden (Labour)

Patcham (3) – a Tory 1, 2, 3: Brian Pidgeon, Carol Theobald, Geoffrey Theobald

Preston Park (3) – Amy Kennedy (Green)

Queen’s Park (3) – Ben Duncan (Green)

Regency (2) – a Green 1, 2: Ania Kitcat, Jason Kitcat

Rottingdean Coastal (3) – a Tory 1, 2, 3: Lynda Hyde, Mary Mears, David Smith

South Portslade (2) – Les Hamilton (Labour)

St Peter’s & North Laine (3) – a Green 1, 2, 3: Ian Davey, Lizzie Deane, Pete West

Westbourne (2) – a Tory 1, 2: Denise Cobb, Brian Oxley

Wish (2) – too close to call

Withdean (3) – a Tory 1, 2, 3: Robert Nemeth, Ann Norman, Ken Norman,

Woodingdean (2) – a Tory 1, 2: Dee Simpson, Geoff Wells

In summary, the above predictions will see elected 8 Labour councillors, 13 Green, and 18 Tories. That leaves 15 seats that are too close to call. Privately, just between me and you, my four regular readers, I predict 8 of these will go Green, 3 to the Tories, and 4 Labour. A hung council made up of 21 Greens, 21 Tories, and 12 Labour councillors. A nightmare scenario for many ….!

The division in the Tory ranks is deep and it is wide

When I was a member of the Boys Brigade, we used to sing a song that went “Deep and wide, deep and wide, there’s a fountain flowing deep and wide …”. We had hand actions to emphasise thewords, and the speed of the song increased with each verse.

Walking along a corridor in Kings House the other day, I came across a group of Tory councillors singing that song, complete with hand movements. But the words have been changed: “Deep and wide, deep and wide, the division’s so deep and wide …”.

The split in the Tory Party is, indeed, deep and wide. And no more so than in Hangleton and Knoll. Following the untimely death of councillor David Smart, it had been expected that Jo Heard, the daughter of the retiring councillor for Central Hove, Averill Older, would be his natural successor.

But no, one of the Young Turks, Michael Ireland, has been parachuted into the seat. This is a source of a lot of unhappiness in the local Conservative association. Several members are in open rebellion and Jo Heard has, herself, cut her losses with the Tories and is standing as an Independent.

Jo is very well known in the area, has campaigned for years on various issues and is a highly respected fundraiser (for the Alzheimer’s Society). She has routes in the Church, having been active in St Andrew’s Church in Hove. I assume that Bishop Brian (Oxley) is sympathetic to Jo, but party loyalties prevent him from speaking out.

Another of Jo’s claim to fame was having her photograph reproduced on the side of a bus, dressed in a blue dress (appropriate for a Tory) and her arms spread wide “Deep and wide, deep and wide, etc etc”. Believe it or not, the bus was the number 5 to Hangleton, the very one that is about to be saved by Brian Fitch. What a tangled web we weave!

But what happened to that bus and Jo’s image. In June 2009 the bus was, sadly, repainted. And so, too, has Jo repainted her political allegiance. A Tory no more, she is standing as an independent.

Her entry into this election makes the outcome in Hangleton and Knoll most unpredictable. Dawn Barnett remains the favourite for re-election, but Tony Janio’s future is more uncertain. Michael Ireland is the Tory least likely to be elected. Brian Fitch, one of the most able and energetic campaigners inspite of approaching three score years and ten, can be counted on to make a very strong challenge. His cause is helped by Jo’s candidature. It is tough for an independent to be elected, but I would not rule Jo out altogether.

New Tory website claims that all its candidates are gay (not really)

The Brighton and Hove Conservatives have launched their new website, full of details about their candidates. The site is simple to navigate but a bit clunky when trying to see the different candidates in each ward. You can’t see all in one go and it takes two clicks to navigate from, for example, one Estate Agent in Goldsmid ward to another. But that said, it is a helpful site for those wanting to know who is standing where (and for a blogger wishing to have some sport).

The Tories have a number of bright young things standing in highly winnable seats, not least Michael Ireland who works for Mike Weatherley, MP for Hove, as his parliamentary researcher. Keep an eye on Michael, he is destined to go far. In my dealings with him I have found him to be incredibly personable and very bright. He has a big future ahead of him. His one misjudgement is to be a Conservative! Michael is standing in Hangleton and Knoll, hoping to succeed the late David Smart who passed away just before Christmas.

Standing with him in H&K is Dawn Barnett, certain to be re-elected, and Tony Janio, Hove’s own Bruce Willis. Bruce writes “My main fear is that a return of another Labour/Green Administration will bring an end to the improvements we have seen.” His ‘main fear’? Surely a more worrying fear is a nuclear accident along the Channel, a global financial meltdown, or Eric Pickles becoming prime minister. And for the record, “another Labour/Green Administration …”? I have looked back but don’t think we have ever had one ….. yet.

No details are given for the candidates in Hanover and Elm Grove. A sign that the Tories can field paper candidates throughout the city but are unable to put up a fight everywhere?

In Hollingdean and Stanmer we have Momma Grizzly herself, Rachael Bates, another of Mike Weatherley’s bright young things. She provides more information than just about any candidate, including “I enjoy going to rock and metal nights. I frequently go to the Pav Tav (usually for Guerilla Rocks) and to Belushi’s Below for Abandoned.” I have commented before that this is alien territory for this confused blogger, but I am waiting for Grizzly to offer to take me out her town to sample Guerilla Rocks which I assume is some sort of rhythm and beat combo.

Fellow candidate Rob Labs is “a preacher and co-founder of a faith group, the light house parish of the redeemed Christian Church of God, based in Brighton. I am passionate about strong family values.” I guess we won’t be seeing Rob at Pride, with or without a ticket, this year.

More tomorrow

Jeane Lepper and Dawn Barnett, two councillors who will stick in there like chewing gum on you shoe

Councillor Sven Rufus is normally a wise owl. As a seasoned campaigner he downplays the prospects of his party, the Greens, doing particularly well in Hollingdean and Stanmer where he is a candidate. But he just doesn’t get the Jeane Effect!  He writes: “I’m ever grateful for your certainty it will be a good result for the Greens – but I do disagree with you about why we won’t/can’t take the third seat. You constantly tell us that there is a strong personal vote for Jeane Lepper, and that will carry her across the line. I wonder what you base that on?”  The Ghost of Nobby Clarke plays down the importance of a personal vote: “Personal votes didn’t help Messrs Bodfish & Burgess 4 years ago did it in Queens Park?”.

Tonight I will explore the concept of a personal vote.  Where you have a councillor who is diligent in their case work, and who has been around for many years, as in the case of Jeane Lepper, constituents will vote for the person rather than the party.  Jeane will have helped many hundreds of residents of Hollingdean and Stanmer with what some activists might dismiss as pavement politics. Where there has been a noisy neighbour, Jeane will have intervened.  When someone’s son or daughter, or grandson or granddaughter, has not got into the school of their choice, Jeane will have written a letter, even represented them at an appeal. She will have lobbied on planning applications, helped with housing applications, even raised issues about dog shit and bent lamp posts.  For individual residents, these issues matter, and as an effective councillor (as opposed to high profile) she will have made a difference to the lives on several hundred individual households. 

It is that history and record, to answer the Wise Owl’s question, is what I base my forecast on. The Lepper name, too, will help enormously, since David Lepper was an exceptionally diligent constituency MP.  He may not have set Westminster alight, unlike his successor, Caroline Lucas, but he was (is) well known and highly respected by ordinary constituents.

So what about Queens Park? Why did the personal vote not save Ken Bodfish and Simon Burgess.  The answer is simple.  They represented an administration that had become arrogant and detached from the lives of ordinary people.  They were seen to have been associated with, even responsible for, many ill-fated initiatives from the mayoral campaign, schools admissions, and the Council house debacle. Their prominence as the successive leaders of the Council over-shadowed anything they may have done as ward councillors.  Other leading politicians have not neglected their own constituents (I don’t think Simon did).  Other good examples are Mary Mears, Maria Caulfield and Bill Randall who work conscientiously on case work and who come across with humility and not the arrogance that characterised (perhaps unfairly some might say) the Queens Park Mafia.

Steve Bassam was another who knew where his base lay.  An exceptional case worker, he may have become a very divisive figure in the town and within Labour, but he never came anywhere near losing his power base in Tenantry Ward even though it was, I understand, the heartland of Militant.  If  Hangleton and Knoll returns to Labour, it won’t be a clean sweep.  Dawn Barnett, who knows every household down to the name of their late and much missed pet dog, will stick in there like chewing gum on your shoe.  Labour will just not be able to get rid of her, and the Greens will not be able to get rid of Jeane Lepper.

Who else, current or former councillors, would you say is/was a great ward councillor whose personal votes would see them through, thick or thin?