The Campaign Trail – Highs and Lows, by Cllr Emma Daniel

This item was first posted on Cllr Emma Daniel’s own blog on 26th May 2015. She has kindly agreed to allow us to repost it on the Brighton Politics Blog.

It’s been ages since I blogged because campaigning took up every drop of physical and mental and emotional energy I could find. The by-election was quite time limited and, though like a bomb going off in my life, it was in effect a sprint. This last few months has been hitting the wall in the marathon and keeping going, taking a massive amount of optimism and hope to do so. I have never done this before. My colleagues have done it, and won and lost and got back up and done it again. I think my admiration for those with this experience couldn’t get any higher. Nor can my admiration for those with no election experience at all who rose to the occasion. There is nothing like it. If you haven’t volunteered for a political party I genuinely can’t recommend it enough.

I was chased out of a block of flats by a man calling me a war criminal and a paedo. I sprained my knee jumping down entrance steps as a big dog jumped out at me … canvassing with an existing fear of dogs is an emotional resilience mountain, I can tell you. (Yes, I know your dog just growls because he is being friendly, honest!)

I was told that the Greens would have been fine on the council if only those LABOUR MEANIES had supported them and that the i360 was ours (!!) also Valley Gardens (!!) and I mostly sucked that stuff up with good humour because I am good humoured. It goes with the territory. I did once, get a bit snappy with a morris man though which was probably the campaign nadir for me.

Overwhelmingly, though, people were LOVELY. Really and truly. Many were really supportive of political activists and I am lucky to work in one of the most politically knowledgeable and engaged wards in the city … which makes it really good to canvass.

In Hanover and Elm Grove, the campaign was a Labour vs Green council and parliament battleground, though there are a strong and loyal cohort of voters for other parties. It was good natured and I particularly commend David Gibson for his good humour and gentle nature displayed during both elections I fought with him. And next time, I do hope to bring at least one more Labour councillor with me. If we do a fair job on council I think that is possible.

The Parliamentary campaign was less good humoured, with many voters and activists decrying our candidate, Purna Sen, for even standing against Caroline Lucas. I felt this was unnecessary. Surely better to win the argument rather than be handed the seat? And fair play to her, she increased her majority. Our Purna is now working on global women’s issues for the UN and based in New York for the year. A fair and just tribute to her skills and experience. I hope she returns as a parliamentary candidate in future as parliament will be the richer for her participation.

On polling day I ended up sun burnt again! When will I ever learn? But we did an amazing job in Hanover and Elm Grove with a much more politically engaged and genuine relationship with the voters on the small council estates in the ward and an increased membership which just keeps going.

And then it was dark and I was stumbling home with very stiff legs when I saw the exit polls on twitter. It was like being run over. How had we lost the argument nationally so badly? Now there are endless articles explaining it of course – we weren’t left enough … we weren’t centre ground enough. But the thing is, we did lose the argument nationally.

A few days later and we were at the count with new Labour MP Peter Kyle for Hove (a massively cheering feature of the national results) and the former PPC for Kemptown, the lovely Nancy Platts, who despite her own grief at her narrow loss in the parliamentary elections came to stand by the local candidates.

On polling day, and at the count, I was convinced that the Caroline Lucas surge had wiped out the good work we had done in Hanover and Elm Grove on our council campaigning as I spoke to many voters who never normally vote who were going to vote for Caroline and had absolutely no idea there was even a council election on. But I held on and that was absolutely amazing. I am so grateful for the campaign volunteers, the party support and the support of the ward residents who do really care about who runs the council and provides them with a voice.

Going to a count is probably the most amazing and most brutal experience of my life. Seeing experienced and decent councillors wiped out, seeing talented colleagues voted in. I think I hugged everybody. I can’t really describe the count … the amazing officers plugging away with the ballot papers, the scrum of party activists and candidates checking the count and calculating results as they came out. The tears. I cried. And the jubilation. I think it’s the closest I will come to understanding football emotions.

Going through that process it’s clear that the voters of this city haven’t felt that one party has won the argument, and that many vote for councillors they personally believe in. But, they have marginally supported a Labour vision for the city but also giving us the message that they want us to be collaborative with other parties. To seek consensus where we can. And to consider the views of residents in developing schemes and projects.

Advertisements

First past the post or proportional representation? How about a bit of both? by Andy Winter

I have for a long time thought that local government would be an ideal place to introduce a combination of first past the post and proportional representation. It would work like this. Reduce the number of councillors to represent each ward to just one, and reduce the number of wards to 16. A further 8 seats could then be allocated on the basis of the proportion of votes cast across the city to those on party lists and, as suggested to me by Jean Calder, a further eight seats to independents voted for by the whole city.

This system would retain a constituency link, and might also encourage others to stand for election through the party lists or as independents.

Ward councillors would not be allowed to chair committees, but their priority would be to look after the interests of their constituents. They should be properly remunerated given that being a councillor is increasingly becoming a full time job. With just 32 councillors, it would be more affordable.

The current system does not allow for good governance. Currently, if the chair of housing or of planning came from, for example, Rottingdean Coastal, they couldn’t be expected to look at the merits of a housing development in Ovingdean on behalf of the city. They would, rightly, look after the interests of their constituents.

However, councillors elected from the lists would be free to take a city-wide view, and ensure that the needs of the whole city are met. They would be the chairs of committees and from their number the whole Council would elect the Leader.

Some people, who wish to represent a political party, could bring expertise and experience that would massively benefit the city but, for various reasons, they are not able to nurture a ward up to an election and for the four years afterwards.

Last week, Labour secured 35.6% of the vote in the local elections, the Conservatives 30.2%, and the Greens 26.2%. In addition to the seats won, their proportion of the vote would have given them three, three and two additional seats respectively.

As for the independents, we could see people elected from the arts, the universities, or the business community, as well as individuals with something to offer.

Forgive me if I use myself as an example. I might be able to offer something as a councillor in the areas of housing and homelessness. Currently, to stand any chance of election I would have to join a political party, become an activist, and stand for selection as a candidate. I’ve done that before. I don’t have the time or inclination to put myself through that again.

Many others, far better qualified than I, are excluded from serving because of the current system. The City is the poorer for that.

(This item first appeared in the Brighton and Hove Independent on 15th May 2015)

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 …..!

Election result that will change the European political landscape for a decade

The last two weeks have seen election result that will change the European political landscape for a decade.

In Britain, France and Greece, the voters have said a resounding “no” to austerity. Even in the voters of Schleswig-Holstein gave Angela Merkel a bloody nose, her CDU party’s worst defeat in Schleswig-Holstein since 1950. Gone is Nicolas Sarkozy, in comes the anti-austerity Francois Hollande as President, and the two pro-austerity centre parties in Greece have been rejected by the voters.

The two posh boys who don’t know the price of milk have been given notice. Writing in today’s Daily Mail, former Sun editor, Kelvin MacKenzie, has revealed that he has waged a £1,000 on Cameron being gone by November. He got odds of 10-1.

There is so much to comment on, but the rejection of austerity must be the headline. Other matters, in brief, include:

Labours excellent performance up and down the country and its growing lead in the opinion polls. However, the party should not be complacent and, in light of European election results, needs to show that it is setting its face firmly against austerity. Just saying that they would not have cut so far and so fast is the wrong message. It now needs to give people hope and begin to make firm promises about public increasing expenditure, investing in housing and infrastructure products, and reversing changes in the NHS.

Locally, Labour had an excellent result in Hastings, having secured its most seats ever on the Borough Council and reinforcing its hold in that town. But Hastings is a strange place, having elected a Conservative MP, Amber Rudd, in 2010 on the same day as it elected a Labour council. Sarah Owen, Labour’s energetic and electable young candidate, should not underestimate the Blue Lady, Amber Rudd, who has become a highly respected member of the local political establishment, across party divides.

The Greens have much to be pleased about. They increased their number of councillors by more than any other party other than Labour and the Scottish Nationalist Party. The highlight was the third place secured by Jenny Jones in London’s mayoral election, beating the Lib Dems who came fourth. This was achieved in spite of Brian Paddick being given equal coverage to Boris and Ken with Jenny being treated by the media as an also ran.

As for the Lib Dems themselves, they now have fewer councillors than at any point in their history. Perhaps this is a trend that will see these Tory appeasers returning their lowest number of MPs at the next election. Their claim, that they are preventing the worst excesses of the Conservatives, ring increasingly hollow. They are nothing more than Tory-enablers who, but for their enthusiastic participation in the Coalition, the Conservatives would have been able to force through many of their most extreme measures.

Finally, the relative success of the far right in Europe is extremely worrying. While the BNP lost all the seats it was defending in Britain’s local elections, Marine Le Pen in France and Golden Dawn in Greece sends a chilling warning to all democrats across Europe. I will write more about this soon.

(Note: An earlier draft of this post referred to Rising Dawn. This has been corrected to Golden Dawn)

The Greens are well placed to have 2 MEPs elected in 2014

Over the next two years there will be two key elections that people in Brighton and Hove will be able to vote in. The first is the election in November of the Police Commissioner. The result of this pan-Sussex vote will almost certainly see the election of a Conservative into what could become a highly politicised, controversial position.

I think it is such a shame that the Labour Party is fielding a candidate since it has no chance whatsoever of winning. I have said before that an independent candidate, such as Ian Chisnell has a much greater chance of producing a shock result than someone from one of the opposition parties.

But the real reason for wanting an independent is that this role should be free from narrow party political influence.

But more intriguing is the election to the European Parliament in 2014. This election is based on a multi-member regional constituency across the South East. 10 MEPs are elected from this region. Last time the parties, all of whom field a slate of candidates, achieved the following results:

  • Conservative 812,288; 34.8%; 4 (total votes; 5 of vote; MEPs elected)
  • UKIP 440,002; 18.8%; 2
  • Liberal Democrats 230,340; 14.1%; 2
  • Green Party 271,506; 11.6%; 1
  • Labour 192,592; 8.2%; 1

No other party polled sufficient votes to have an MEP elected. The British National party, with 101,769 votes (4.4%) came sixth.

The interesting question is what will happen to the Lib Dem vote. It can hardly expect to hold firm. This will be true in every election coming up over the next three years. Some of its vote might transfer to Labour but it is likely that the Greens will benefit most.

The Green Party itself will no doubt benefit from the higher profile that the party has enjoyed following the election of Caroline Lucas to Westminster and the election of the first ever Green Council in Brighton and Hove.

My friend, the Enigmatic Flo, will no doubt tell me that Green support itself will not hold firm, with Labour being the main beneficiary. But European elections are not that straightforward and it gives disenchanted voters from across the South East a positive opportunity to vote for, and have elected, non-mainstream parties. I include the Greens and UKIP in this category. Together they had 3 MEPs elected with Labour returning just Peter Skinner.

The Green Party will almost certainly take over from the Lib Dems in third place and, if the UKIP vote weakens, the Greens could be challenging for second place. In either case, it would result, almost certainly, in the election of two Green MEPs.

The Green Party is in the middle of the selection process for its candidates for this election. Particular interest should be given to who comes second and third, assuming that the current MEP, Keith Taylor, is number one on the Green list. The Green party would be well advised to select a woman is number two on its list in order to present a balanced ticket.

Locally, three candidates have put themselves forward, Jason Kitcat, Ania Kitcat and Alex Phillips. My prediction is that Alex Phillips is most likely to appeal to Green Party members in the region and would be a valuable asset at number two on the Green list. I would anticipate that in May 2014 Ms Phillips will join Mr Taylor in Brussels.

Next May’s local elections will see gains for the Greens and the end of the Lib Dems

“I’m not a Tory” pleaded Nick Clegg  following an onslaught on Mumsnet.  He claims that the Lib Dems and the Tories are “as distinct as we’ve always been”.

Well, Mr Clegg, if it waddles like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a ….. Lib Dem!  The enthusiasm with which Clegg, David Laws, Danny Alexander et al have embraced the Tory cuts agenda (in spite of pre election statements) makes it hard to differentiate between the Lib Dems and the Tories.

All this is great news for Labour and the Greens.  Both parties should pick up votes from the discredited Lib Dems locally.  They never were much to rite home about, and the defeat of their last two councillors will be one of the high points of the local elections next May. 

So who will benefit most? Probably the Greens.  If the Greens are serious about becoming the largest party next May, the must pick up both Brunswick seats from the Lib Dems. Labour can hope to pick up votes from traditionally anti-Tory Lib Dem who have found the ConDem coalition nauseating.  This could make the difference in Tory/Labour marginals such as Hangleton and Knoll and the two Portslade seats.

As I see it, eight months out, I predict the Greens and the Tories will end neck and neck, with neither having a majority.  Labour, with about twelve seats, will hold the balance of power.  As for the Lib Dems, the will have waddled off to oblivion.

(My apologies to ducks, none of which were hurt in the writing of this post)

Charlotte Vere canvassed by the Greens: I wonder how she will be voting?

Charlotte Vere has been much amused by being canvassed by a member of the Green Party, so much so that she has Tweeted about the incident. Twice. I have two observations to make.

The Greens may have made inadequate preparations for their canvassers. A party with mature canvassing records will normally have made a note of die-hard supporters of other parties and would therefore avoid calling on them. This avoids wasting time and does not “rattle the cages” of their opponents for fear of encouraging them to become active.  In this case, it may well be that Charlotte is not yet on the electoral record for Vere Heights so the Green Party worker can be forgiven for calling on her.

The second observation relates to how a candidate or party supporter should respond when called on by the opposition. One response is to be pleasant, introduce yourself, and wish your opponent well. The other, as practiced by a Labour candidate some years ago when called on by a Tory lady who had not recognised his name, was to ask them numerous and detailed questions about their policies, the character of their candidate, and any other delaying tactic.  The purpose of this was to reduce the time the canvasser had to meet other voters.

The above mentioned incident ended when the Labour candidate thanked the Tory for her time and trouble but said that he would not be voting Tory. It was only at that time that the Tory lady asked for the his name. He introduced himself and added that the main reason for not voting Tory was because he was, in fact, the Labour candidate. The Tory slapped him on the arm, proclaimed “You beast”, turned and stormed away.