Speculation is rife regarding Labour’s new candidate in St Peters and North Laine

There seems to be a great deal of interest in who the new Labour candidate in St Peters and North Laine might be. The general consensus is that the candidate is female. (I think I may have intimated that already).

The speculation includes former leader of the Council, Lynette Gwyn-Jones who represented the old St Peters ward in the early 1990s. Is she from a family dynasty locally. Her former husband is the former Member of Parliament for Brighton Kemptown, Des Turner. Interesting.

Someone has suggested Tom French’s mother (whose name I don’t know). She lives in the ward and is an active Labour Party member. But can a one-off by-election candidate qualify the family as a dynasty?

Claire Calder has been suggested by Dani (who often has her pulse on events) and another (Farris Hifch – very funny). Both Claire’s parents, Jean Calder and Andy Winter, were Labour councillors in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This heritage has more credibility than, say, the French family, but they are hardly in the class of Theobald, Firch or Les Hamilton.

Luke Walter suggests someone from the Forrester Clan. Delia Forrester was part of the Queens Park Mafia that was so soundly defeated by the Greens four years ago. Tom Forrester was a Labour councillor in Hanover before defecting to the SDP in the early 1980s. Is Delia making a comeback? Or is another generation of Forrester about to grace us with their candidature?

Harris Fitch, a fourth generation Labour activist and future councillor) has written of the prospective candidate: “The person is a dear friend of mine, they are extremely capable and will make a great candidate and councillor! I don’t know when it’s being planned to be announced but you certainly have it right that the Greens will be worried!”

I suspect that an announcement will be made tomorrow or Saturday.

Celia Barlow’s candidature in Central Hove makes this seat a three way marginal

When David Miliband was defeated by his brother Ed for the Labour Leadership, he announced that he would be withdrawing from front-line politics. He did not mean he would be resigning his seat in the Commons, withdrawing to become an academic at an Oxford college, or joining the lucrative lecture circuit in the United States (he may well be doing so for all I know). No, he meant that he would no longer be on the front bench. This description of ‘front line politics’ shows just how arrogant he has become, that it was his birthright to be leader of the party of his choice.

Does David Miliband have any idea what the real front line is like – those candidates going from door to door in wet and windy February and March, hoping to persuade the electorate to support them or, more than likely, someone else in the local elections. This is the real front line. David Miliband, and Ed as well, see knocking on a few doors when making a whistle-stop tour to Brighton, Hull or Swindon, as a photo opportunity that might secure them a few votes in an upcoming leadership election.

Is it any wonder that Labour in government became so detached from ordinary people when they see the cosy gentleman’s club of the Westminster Bubble as ‘the front line’.

Why do I mention this now? I wish to pay tribute to the decision of Celia Barlow, the former Labour MP for Hove and Portslade, who is standing for election to Brighton and Hove City Council on May 5th in Central Hove. I say good luck to Celia. Many former MPs see local government well beneath them after the have scaled the lofty heights of Westminster. I do not include David Lepper or Des Turner in this criticism. Both had given a lifetime of service as local councillors and had they not been elected to Parliament they would probably be thinking about hanging up their canvassing cards and Council gowns (oh, those were the days) about now anyway.

Celia said: “Politics is in my blood. I have been a member of the Labour Party since I was 16 and even served as a parish councillor in my time. I do not think it’s that unusual. I know of people in Parliament who have gone back to being councillors”. The last one I can think of locally, Celia, was Dennis Hobden when he lost his Kemptown seat to Andrew Bowden in 1970. But Dennis was not, I am told, your usual politician. Nor, in this respect is Celia.

Celia has a huge mountain to climb, and again this is to her credit that she has chosen a tough seat to fight. The two Labour candidates came seventh and eighth in Central Hove behind the Conservatives, Lib Dems and the Greens. Celia’s candidature should boost Labour because of name recognition (which is second only to Mr Pickwick himself, Christopher Hawtree, rumoured to have made the ultimate sacrifice by switching from the safe Green target of Rottingdean Coastal to Central Hove). Celia can certainly beat the Lib Dems. Let’s face it, anyone can beat the Lib Dems these days, even Leo Artreides who polled just 19 votes at the general election in Brighton Pavilion. We could have a situation where there is a split result. I think that Jan Young will hold on. Andrew Wealls, a decent Conservative (most at local government are), may yet again be a Tory candidate fighting the wrong seat at the wrong election. He was beaten by the unstoppable Alex Phillips in the Goldsmid by-election a couple of years ago. The Greens will have hopes of making a breakthrough here, especially if the Lib Dem vote does collapse as spectacularly as the polls suggest. And then there is Celia.

I think that it will be a split result, Jan Young and either Celia or a Green. But the Greens better get their skates on and decide who will be their ‘lead’ candidate is to be in Central Hove.

The final word goes to Jan Young, and she pays a huge compliment to Celia: “Of all the wards in all the city she had to choose mine”. Perhaps, if Celia is successful, along with Jan, it could be the start of a very beautiful friendship ….

Political Awards 2010: Politician of the Year Part 1

This award has five nominees, one for the three main parties in Brighton and Hove (Conservative, Labour and Green) and one for two of the fringe parties locally (Lib Dem and UKIP). 

The nominee for the Conservative Party is a politician that has established himself and consolidated his position in a relatively short period of time.  Mike Weatherley is the MP for Hove, elected in May with a majority of 1,868 over the sitting Labour MP, Celia Barlow.  This was a good showing by Celia and the narrowness of Weatherley’s majority should not lead to the conclusion that this will be a marginal next time.  Weatherley has quickly established a reputation as a hard-working constituency MP.  He goes about his business with diligence and little fanfare, but he is making it count where it matters – the careful nurturing of communities of interest.  He is following in the tradition of other effective local MP’s such as David Lepper, Des Turner and Andrew Bowden. Weatherley understands that an MP who neglects his core support will struggle to retain the seat in a bad year.  Weatherley is a formidable politician, likely to stick around for many years to come.  Hove is set to become, once again, a safe Tory seat.  This is why Mike Weatherley is the Conservative Politician of the Year.

Paul Perrin of UKIP is not my kind of politician.  For one, he is a member of UKIP.  I am on record as saying I would prefer to stick pins in my eye than vote UKIP.  But Perrin has a slightly obsessive characteristic needed to make a mark on behalf of a party that is going nowhere.  Without the likes of Perrin, it would go somewhere – to deeper, if not permanent obscurity. Perrin blogs and Tweets with great enthusiasm.  He is the only local UKIP activist who I can name, probably because he is the only UKIP activist locally.  But his single-minded determination to fly the UKIP banner in Brighton and Hove means that he is the UKIP Politician of the Year.

Finding a Lib Dem to nominate as Politician of the Year has proven to be a challenge.  There was a temptation to nominate David Watkins simply because he has been deselected by the Lib Dems, not for breaking pledges and promises (that gets you promoted in Nick Clegg’s Lib Dems), but for being basically a decent sort. But the Lib Dem who stood out for me over the last year is its candidate for Brighton Pavilion, Juliet Williams. At one hustings in Brighton Pavilion, she substituted for that constituency’s candidate on the panel. Juliet gave a barnstorming performance, completely on top of her brief, passionate, with grace and humour.  With candidates like her (not forgetting some backbone and principles) the Lib Dems could avoid being trounced at all elections for the next 5 years.  Juliet Williams is the Lib Dem Politician of the Year.

Tomorrow, Labour and the Greens.

Labour Conference: Welcome to Brighton

The Labour Party Conference arrives in Brighton this weekend.  Welcome to all delegates. I hope you enjoy your stay in the City and have a Conference that is a spring-board to success in next year’s General Election.

Unfortunately, I fear that certain leading Members of Parlaiment, will use the next week to position themselves for the leadership campaign that they believe will follow after the election defeat.  Whoever is Leader following the next election, they can learn a great deal from the experience of Labour in Brighton.

In the 1980’s led by David Lepper (now MP for Brighton Pavilion) and Steve (now Lord) Bassam, strengthen by a dynamic and active local Party of 2,000+ members (of left and right), the Party won control of the old Brighton Council. Kinnock’s witch-hunt did for all that and Labour has been in decline ever since. What success it has had has been down to the strengths of individuals (Lepper and Des Turner) as well as the anti-Tory tide that swept New Labour into power in 1997.

But Labour as an administration was a disaster, losing touch with ordinary people, resulting in the Tories regaining control of the unitary authority of Brighton and Hove several years ago.  Any any residual activism, radicalism and enthusiasm rests almost exclusively with the Greens who now match Labour on the City Council and who are heading for a comfortable second place (behind the Tories) at the General Election in Brighton Pavilion.

The Greens might win if it was not for an exceptional Labour candidate, Nancy Platts, who will retain sufficient support for Labour and for herself (in spite of being Labour), to split the anti-Tory vote.  The Green candidate, Caroline Lucas, doesn’t quite have it (or at least she isn’t showing it) to become a successful constuituency candidate to win sufficient votes from the impressive Nancy.

Labour cannot hold Brighton Kemptown which will go Conservative with the Greens running Labour close but still ending in 3rd place.  Labour’s candidate, Simon Burgess, is a decent man but lacks imagination and is running a completely uninspiring, almost invisible, campaign.  He is better suited as someone working behind the scenes in support of a more dynamic candidate. He led Labour to defeat at local elections, losing his (previously safe) seat to the Greens including his Green opponent in Kemptown, Ben Duncan.  (The problem for the Greens is that they struggle to be seen beyond Brighton’s muesli-belt of town-centre wards).

Labour lacks the activist base that personified the local Party in the 1980s. No matter how hard Nancy Platts works, she does not have the support required to mount a sussessful campaign.

If Labour is to win, it needs to offer something to inspire voters.  Competing with the Lib Dems and the Tories on cuts won’t work. Labour has been the architect of its own demise – banking out the banks and bankers, fighting two wars, losing its activist base. There is time, just, to turn things around.  If a radical alternative is not put forward by Gordon Brown on Tuesday, we might as well begin planning and organising for the general elction that is likely to take place in May 2014.

Defending the Greens Record of Campaigning

I have received a robust defence from Green Amy Kennedy of the Green Party’s record in campaigning against the closure of post offices. (see “Greens have been conspicuous by their absence in any campaign to save any single [Post Office)”. She writes:

“When the Brighton & Hove PO closures were announced in October 2007, Greens cllrs were appalled to find that no less than four of the six doomed B&H sub-POs were located in our wards (Trafalgar Street in St Peter’s & North Laine, Elm Grove in Hanover & Elm Grove, and Preston Circus and Preston Road in Preston Park).

“Subsequently, Brighton & Hove Greens were the only political party locally to call a public meeting to try and hold Post Office Ltd to account (http://www.carolinelucasmep.org.uk/2007/11/28/greens-fight-post-office-closures/), which was held on 6th December 2007 at the Friends Meeting House.

“The meeting was Chaired by Peter Crowhurst (North Laine Community Association), and the panel consisted of Caroline Lucas, Selma Montford MBE, David Bull (then Conservative PPC for Brighton Pavilion) Gary Herbert (Post Office Ltd), Malcolm Butler (Postwatch – consumer watchdog), and a CWU rep (sorry, name escapes me). Invitations were also issued to local Labour MPs, but in the event this offer was not taken up.

“Green councillors also organised petitions in all the condemned B&H POs (including the two in Hove), amassing several thousand signatures, in addition to supplying free template letters for customers to send to Post Office Ltd, Postwatch, and their respective MPs. We sent the original petitions to Hazel Blears MP (then CLG minister), and forwarded copies to PO Ltd and Postwatch.

“Needless to say, the axe fell regardless, thanks to the Labour government’s relentless drive to introduce “efficiency” into public services, regardless of the (not necessarily intangible) cost to communities. I have to say it was pretty ironic watching Nancy Platts running around trying to “save the Post Offices” when (if I recall correctly) both David Lepper and Des Turner voted for the proposals to close the B&H sub-POs, and hundreds like them across the country.

“We are still working to try and progress an “Essex model” at local authority level, so watch this space. And we have and will continue to picket with the CWU. So it’s not fair really to suggest that Greens aren’t doing anything to protect post offices and public mail services”.

Thanks, Green Amy. I stand corrected regarding the campaigning of the Greens.

She is right about the role of the Labour government in driving through post office closures. It truly is the Labour version of the Poll Tax. And given reference to the Poll Tax, now that was a real campaign. Not only did we ultimately get the Poll Tax thrown out, we brought down Margaret Thatcher.

Notwithstanding the activities of the Greens, Nancy Platts and others, post offices closed, remain closed and is unlikely to be a massive part of the general election. The campaign has not been successful.

Tactical Voting Campaign: Brighton Kemptown

With Des Turner standing down at the General Election, Simon Burgess, former leader of the City Council, is hoping to succeed him as just the third ever Labour MP for this seat. Simon had a huge set-back when defeated in the last local elections by, amongst others, the Green parliamentry candidate, Ben Duncan.

The Tory candidate, Simon Kirby, has a background in local government but failed to make any real impact. He has extensive business interests but lacks the flair necessary to run an interesting campaign.

The Lib Dem candidate is, allegedly, Juliet Williamson, a complete unknown who has failed to increase her profile since being selection. Her challenge will be to retain her deposit and avoid being beaten into 4th place by UKIP.

So the challenge for non-Conservatives is to decide between Simon Burgess and Ben Duncan.

Simon is probably the more popular and better known of the two, highly thought of by Labour and non-Labour alike, having been effective as a concensus builder. Simon is very much a party man, a hard working organisaer and communicator. But as a loyal servant of the party he can lack the independence to offset some of the negative aspects of being a Labour candidate in 2010.

Ben is the more political of the two, able to articulate clear political views and able to campaign on local issues. Ben has the advantage of not being Labour, but may struggle as the Green’s commit all their resources into Brighton Pavilion. His other weakness is his limited appeal beyong the muesli-belt of south west Kemptown.  Simon,on the other hand is known and respected well beyond Queens Park ward, not least in Whitehawk, Saltdean, Moulsecoomb and similar areas.

It is on the basis of Smon’s wider support base that this blog is urging non-Conservatives to vote Labour and Simon Burgess at the general election.

The 2005 general election result:

Conservative: 13121 (33%)
Labour: 15858 (39.9%)
Liberal Democrat: 6560 (16.5%)
Green: 2800 (7%)
UKIP: 758 (1.9%)
Other: 622 (1.6%)
Majority: 2737 (6.9%)

MP’s Expenses

The ‘official’ details of MP’s expenses was published in the last hour. Brighton and Hove’ representatives are shown to have been amongst the most reasonable claimants, none seeking to maximise claims just because it was in the rules.

David Lepper and Des Turner claimed around just half of what others did for staying away from home, and Celia Barlow claimed nothing at all.

All three claimed towards the upper end for office costs and staff. That is something that the public should accept given that all three are diligent and hard working local MP’s. We are lucky to have all three.