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.

Some of my favourite things about politics in Brighton and Hove

The Greens: Thank goodness we live in a city that has the variety of politics and an openness to new ideas that allows a party like the Greens to thrive and enjoy electoral success. As a tribal Labour loyalist who voted Labour in May, I can’t imagine how very boring politics would be if we were still locked in a two-party dog fight, year in, year out. The Greens are forcing Labour and the Tories to rethink their strategy and policies, and (who knows when) both the old parties may just one day change for the better!

Warren Morgan: Warren will hate to be included in this list but he represents the fighting spirit that remains in parts of the local Labour Party. I can rely on Warren to spill his Sugar Puffs each time I post my latest take on the Greens. For him, it is the Evil Princess and All Her Works (i.e. Caroline Lucas) that personifies everything that is wrong with Brighton politics. Without the likes of Warren, Labour’s decline would be almost terminal.

The Young Tories: Rob Buckwell, Michael Ireland, Mike MacFarlane, George Dore, Kerry Underhill, Robert Nemeth and the incomparable Momma Grizzly, Rachael Bates. The Tory Party needs ‘modernising’ but not in the Blair/Cameron sense (which are no more than a cover for the worst traditions of paternalistic old-fashion politics). This new breed of young Tories will help the Tories break with their past and will challenge Blue Labour, sometimes from the left. Momma Grizzly is an enigma: a right wing, anti-monarchist, pro-Palin, capitalist. Other than her anti-monarchist tendencies, she represents much of what I oppose, but at least she has a sense of humour and passion, but that could make her all the more dangerous.

Community Gardeners: These groups represent the free spirit of campaigning that has long existed in Brightn and Hove. They are bottom up campaigners that genuinely ‘shape place’ to use the jargon of the City Council. Co-operative and communal, they bring forward a model of how things can improve, without consultants and council officers.

Christopher Hawtree: Chris is the latest in a long line of characters that have graced and enriched the political scene in Brighton and Hove over many years: Dennis Hobden, Ruth Larkin, Doreen Radford (the lady who it is said wore a new hat at every Council meeting), Richard Stanton, Sheila Hall, etc. Christopher’s election sent greater shockwaves around senior officers of the Council more than any other result on the night. It is said his election sent shockwaves around the Green Party as well!

The Blogosphere and Twiteratti: My life was sad, lacking in focus, days passing into weeks and weeks into years. I am the shy, retiring type. But then I discovered a whole new world and made loads of new friends: The Ghost, Zombie, Doris Day (she never returns my calls), Baron Pepperpot, Momma Grizzly, Rosa’s Lovely Daughter, Dr Faust, etc. Social media has enriched the political world locally, although no party has yet worked out how to make the most of it. When one party fully utilises Twitter, they can expect to reap electoral success.

The future: I don’t mean the young Tories (see above) or even the impressive young activists in Labour (Harris Fitch, Clare Calder, etc.) or in the Greens (Luke Walter, Allie Cannell, Alex Phillips, etc.) but those who active in their early and mid teens, such as Pearl Ahrens. With committed young activists like her, we can take courage for the future health of the political process.

Labour’s prospects in Brighton Kemptown 2015

My dear readers (Grizzly, Warren, councillor Christopher and Doris), I apologise for my radio silence. Internet connectivity at my French country retreat leaves much to be desired. I have been catching up with the news and have discovered Brighton and Hove has a Green Council. What a turn up. I am grateful to those readers who expressed concern about my well being. GrapevineBandH asks: “Where are those enjoyable blogs lately? Are you unwell friend?” Momma Grizzly wrote: “Why so quiet on the blog, Baps? I’m missing out on B&H’s political goss!” while Alex Craven responded “No, please spare us of all that crypto-Green nonsense.” Bless.

My thoughts have turned to the next general election. The three Brighton and Hove membersof parliament will all be defending their seats. The two Conservative MP’s have interesting challenges.

But first of all a word about Norman Baker (Lib Dem, Lewes). Norman, you may recall, signed a pledge before the general election that he wold NOT vote for an increase in university tuition fees. So at the first opportunity to stand by this pledge, Stormin’ Norman does the exact opposite and votes FOR an increase in tuition fees. Norman can expect to be beaten at the next general election as the Lib Dems are wiped out across the country (as they were in the locals in Brighton and Hove). It will be a shame if the Lib Dem for Eastbourne, Stephen Lloyd was to lose. He is a man of integrity, who voted against an increase in tuition fees, and deserves to be re-elected.

As a result of Norman’s inability to keep his word, the Lib Dems lost out in the Lewes District council elections, and one of the beneficiaries was the Tory Party in those seats in Simon Kirby’s Brighton Kemptown constituency. If Labour and the Greens wish to challenge Simon Kirby in 2015, both will need to build support in Lewes District.

Those parts of Brighton Kemptown that fall within the boundary of the City Council, there are now 6 Labour councillors (up one), 5 Tories (down one) with the Greens static on three. Labour’s failure to win in Queens Park is a set back for Labour. The campaign run by Labour in Queens Park shows that a short term campaign focused largely around one very energetic candidate is not enough. The Greens had been building support over several years and that party was able to sustain support even with two councillors standing down. For Labour to recover in this area they need a good strategist (not the candidate!) and local residents buildig, building, building support. The East Brighton Three (Morgan, Mitchell and Turton) understand this – just follow @warrenmorgan on Twitter to gain a good understanding of what it takes.

In 2015 it is Labour that has the better chance of challenging the Conservatives in Brighton Kemptown. Labour would be wrong to follow the line it began promoting last year about an “invisible member of parliament”. Simon Kirby may not have the highest profile in Queens Park, but he is here, there and everywhere in Rottingdean Coastal and that part of his constituency that falls in Lewes district.

If the Greens want to challenge then it has a long way to go. Three Green councillors does not provide the platform needed but, should the Greens begin building in Lewes District (which it should do given the availability of former Lib Dem votes that are more likely to go Green than Labour), then the Greens could begin looking towards 2020 …

In future posts I will review prospects in the Brighton Pavilion and Hove constituencies.

Fall out from local elections continues

As you would expect, a very robust and coherent defence of Labour has been received from Warren Morgan in response to my post yesterday. Reglar readers will know that I am an admirer of Warren. He is a very able politician, and one who is able to organise well. However, before the election I repeatedly told him (when he was predicting greater success for Labour that materialised) that his views were influenced by the excellent organisation in East Brighton, something replicated in just a few wards elsewhere in Brighton and Hove. As the Greens have advanced, Labour has become more marginalised. ‘But we polled almost the same number of votes as the Green’s, I hear the Labour Deniers plea. But you didn’t win the seats. In the first year of a Tory-led government that is slashing public services across the board you should have been able to pick up more than a handful of seats from the Tories.

In fact Warren himself talks about how close it was: “Labour scored the same number of votes citywide as the Greens – a fact. It didn’t get those votes where they were needed to win the seats, admitted. Labour was 150 to 200 votes short of winning additional seats in seven wards. It didn’t, but had it done it it would have been the largest group, just. Labour finished a relatively close second in all three parliamentary seats in the city last year, and level with the winners in terms of votes this year. Labour’s vote went up in every ward, most by 350, some by 500, one by 700. That does not paint a picture of a Party in terminal decline.”

Warren does reveal something I have called for, that there will be a wide and open review of what went wrong: “Of course lessons need to be learned both in terms of policy, organisation and message, but any debate is painted as dissent and division. Over the coming weeks and months Labour will be consulting, meeting, listening and debating, not just within our membership but with voters, organisations and others to determine what we can do better.” I welcome that open debate although having seen some comments by various activists (for which I am criticised when quoting them on this blog) I am aware that there is a wish for greater control to be put in the hands of a smaller number of individuals at the expense of ward branch organisation. Very dangerous. But good luck in that debate, Warren, and if I can be of any assistance ……!

We get an interesting Green insight from Luke Walter, one of the most able campaigners in Brighton and Hove who was unlucky to have missed election in Hollingdean and Stanmer purely on the grounds of the alphabet (something he identified several weeks ago was likely): “We understood our demographic better than Labour, we understood the kind of people who vote in local elections, we even understood their motivation for voting. In nearly all of these, Labour and the Tories got it wrong. Labour were saying ‘if you vote Green you get the Tories.’ The Tories were saying ‘if you vote Green you get Labour.’ I think we were the only ones saying ‘if you vote Green you get Green.’ The truth is, Warren and his councillor colleagues in the Kemptown constituency need to try and understand why 1000 or so voters in EB and M&B voted Green in the locals with no obvious campaigning and with the continuous message ‘Greens can’t win’ or ‘voting Green only helps the Tories here.’ ”

What is impressive about Luke (something not that obvious in other parties) is his ability to be self-critical about the Greens own performance: “We Greens are also at fault. We greatly underestimated our vote in those wards, as well as Westbourne in Hove. This mistake won’t be repeated again. Reading the comments from Labour councillors and Labour supporters, it is clear the party is in a pickle, as I’m sure the Tories are as well. Weatherly should be sweating in Hove and Portslade losing six seats last Friday. The same for Kirby in Kemptown, who was beaten into third by the Greens in two sizeable wards in his constituency. If the Greens political opponents are waiting in the dark until we slip-up, they’ve got another thing coming. From now on, they can expect a more confident, more slicker and bolder Green machine in Brighton AND Hove.”

Dr Faust reprimands me, that I “need to develop a more even handed approach with your critisisms of parties.  You ask for an apology from Labour about ‘misleading’ material (which I would contest), but don’t ask for the same from the Green Party.  You say the same about claims made over recent elections, but again don’t expect any contrition from the Green Party who did exactly the same.  In both cases I consider the material put out to be par for the course tactics in trying to win votes and seats. Consistancy would be welcome.”

My dear Doctor, I have never pretended to be consistent or even-handed. A hint of bias has occasionally come through in my writings on those two-faced, yellow-belly, snake-in-the-grass, rats sometimes known as the Lib Dems. I was SO sad to see them wiped off the face of the political map in Brighton and Hove on May 5th. As for being even handed in my criticism, I don’t dish it out for the sake of it. I am critical of Labour’s use of misleading graphs in two elections in a row and the poor organisation in the City and of party HQ. Last week I did criticise the Greens for their use of a graph but their use was less misleading because of a simple factor – they WON. Labour’s claims were misleading as they claimed that, in 2010, they were the only party who could beat the Tories in Brighton Pavilion (horribly misleading and unforgivable, as would the Greens claim had they not won) and, in 2011, that they were the only party that could form an administration. With just 13 seats out of 54 that is a big ask!

(In case there is any doubt amongst those other than my four regular readers – Warren, Christopher Hawtree, Momma Grizzly, and Doris Day – I am not anti-Labour. I voted Labour on May 5th. I just want to see Labour get its act together. I am also aware that there is a suggestion that there is a ‘snitch’ in Labour’s ranks, someone who is passing me information. In fact, there are almost a dozen Labour activists with whom I am either in regular contact with or who DM or email me regularly, along with several Tories and several Greens. No Lib Dems, alas).

Condemning the Greens for their bar chart but recognising the Greens are on the up

Imagine the scene – Warren Morgan reviewing this blog while having a sneaky second bowl of Sugar Puffs. Seeing the condemnation by Dr Faust of my failure to criticise the bar chart used in the latest Green leaflet, he is compelled to write: “Dr Faust – yes, still no defence of the Green ‘last citywide poll’ bar graph from 2009, funny that.”

Faust himself had written: “BPB – don’t forget your over the top condemnation of Labour leaflets with far less contentious contents. You said Labour had lost one of your votes at the time – if you were going Green with it, then surely you should take it back – or maybe go Lib Dem?”

All I can do is coin a phrase: “Calm down, dear”. The bar chart used by the Greens is almost as bad as that used by Labour – which recorded some votes cast in Lewes District. At least the Green chart used only votes cast in Brighton and Hove. But apart from that, it is a dishonest chart in as much as these local elections are being fought on ward boundaries. No direct comparisons can be drawn and the Greens should not have used it.

What the Greens can legitimately claim, and this will have Warren spluttering over his Sugar Puffs, the “Greens are on the up” and “Labour are in decline”. Apart from poor grammar (it should read “Labour is in decline”) this claim in the Greens’ leaflet is correct and will be seen to be so on Friday when the real votes are counted.

Which brings me on to Geoffrey Bowden. He writes: “What lovely fun all this speculation is. However, for my part and the rest of the Green Party candidates in Queen’s Park, the canvassing goes on till the last moment and nothing will be taken for granted.  Its been a great contest cleanly fought (for the most part) on all sides, but in the end it is the electorate who decide and not the sephologists.”

Clearly the Sussex Square doesn’t think it is fun at all. Lighten up, Geoffrey. This blog is provided as a social service, to help otherwise stressed candidates to let off stream. All four of my regular readers (Warren, Grizzly, Christopher, and Doris Day) know what is being written is speculative fun.

As we enter the last few frenetic days of the campaign, I encourage all candidates to enjoy themselves. Some wards are so close that a final push might make all the difference. Give it your all, and best of luck to all, even Grizzly and the Estate Agent!