Caroline Lucas stands down …. as party leader

Tonight Caroline Lucas announced that she is to stand down as leader of the Green Party.  On a statement on the Green Party website she said she was doing so “in order to broaden opportunities for the range of talent in the Party and to raise the profiles of others aspiring to election.”

On Twitter this evening her Conservative rival in the 2010 general election, Charlotte Vere, said that she was trying to think of another party leader to stand down voluntarily and then not withdraw from public life.

My understanding that Ms Lucas is not planning to withdraw from public life. Rather, she is to focus on defending her Westminster seat at the next general election.

This is a shrewd move from Ms Lucas. Her profile as the lone Green MP is far greater than her profile as Party Leader. Of course being the leader gave her a significant advantage against Chuck Vere and Nancy Platts (the Labour candidate). However, having secured the win, she can now concentrate on her consistuency base.

A criticism of Ms Lucas, if it can be called that, has been that she tries to do everything and might have been in danger of running herself into the ground. This blogger was concerned prior to the election that, if elected, her role as leader she would mean she could not devote sufficient attention to the constituency. She has proven to be an excellent constituency MP (as I have no doubt would have Chuck or Nancy – Brighton Pavilion was particularly fortunate to have had three exceptional women condidates in 2010).

If a new Party Leader can support Caroline in her role as a Member of Parliament, even using the platform that leadership offers to become an MP, then the Greens will have taken a small, yet significant step forward.

For Labour and Tory activists with an eye on the general election in 2015, this news will be greeted with dismay. It means that Ms Lucas’s near certain re-election has itself moved a small, yet significant step forward.

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The Labour Party has failed young people; the Greens are now failing them

Brighton has had, for several generations, a tradition of resistance.  In the 1930s, when Oswald Mosely’s Black Shirts tried to rally in Brighton, there were fierce street battles, and the fascists were prevented from meeting on The Level.  In the 1960s, with the founding of Sussex University, radical student activity abounded, with sit-ins and demonstrations. In the 1970s there were dozens of left-wing and anarchist groups operating in Brighton, based around the old Resource Centre where the Brighthelm Centre now stands.  Punk, New Wave, and Ska music vied with the politics of fascist groups. Feminist and separatist women’s politics was flourishing.

The arrival of the Thatcher government in 1979, and with it mass unemployment, saw Right to Work marches, the People’s March for Jobs, and more fascist activity.  The National Front was active locally, with many of its national leaders living locally. The Anti-Nazi League attracted lots of support from students and young activists, although not from the Militant-dominated Labour Party Young Socialists who supported the less militant Committee Against Fascism.  Militant and the LPYS didn’t support the opposition to the Falklands War, but hundreds of young people did march against the war.  This growing activism created momentum that led to Labour’s assault on the Tories 130 year control on Brighton Council.  Hundreds of young activists had joined the Party and led by David Lepper and Steve Bassam, Labour took control of the Council in 1986 for the first time ever.

The Poll Tax created further momentum and support for the Party peaked in 1990.  But within two years all was lost when the Brighton Labour Party was closed down as part of Kinnock’s witch hunt against Militant.  The Party has never properly recovered and young activists today are few and far between.  The anarchist and fringe left groups have gone.  Small, marginalised groups have emerged, but they are characterised by sectarianism and an inability to organise and mobilise.  Some young people have maintained their political awareness, but mainly in single-issue campaigning.  More often than not, they have become disillusioned and disengaged.  And who can blame them.

The Labour Party in government betrayed the heritage that brought advantage to many of its leaders by introducing tuition fees and saddling generations of graduates with years and years of debt.  Housing is a major concern and so too are job prospects.  The Greens, who should be in a position to harness the anger, aspirations and idealism of young people, are showing themselves to be poor organisers and somewhat elitist, in spite of the success of Caroline Lucas.  A question the Greens must answer is: why are talented young activists like Tom French in the Labour Party and not part of the next chapter of the Green’s march forward in Brighton?

The Labour Party has failed young people, the Greens are failing to capitalise.  What a failure by both.

Where now for Labour in Brighton and Hove? First it must get over its bitterness

Thursday’s election saw the Labour Party lose all three parliamentary seats in Brighton and Hove, seats they won in 1997 and held in the subsequent two elections.

The results were close, but not close enough.  These defeats come on the back of devastating local elections in 1998.  The Party now faces further humiliation next May when all seats on the City Council are up for election.

So where now for Labour? The three candidates, the impressive Nancy Platts, the demoralised Simon Burgess, and the determined Celia Barlow, will no doubt be extremely disappointed.  All three have worked hard, and when selected would have had reasonable expectations of winning.  Nancy was unfortunate to be up against Caroline Lucas in an historic election and breakthrough for the Green Party.  Simon lacks the killer instinct to win, and (unlike Nancy) was unable to inspire enthusiasm amongst his supporters.  Celia’s fighting instinct came through to limit the Tory majority to just 1,868.

In Brighton Pavilion, Labour risked its reputation and credibility going all out in saying that th Greens could not win.  They were wrong and those who remained with Labour because of this tactic will be unlikely to stay with Labour when they really wanted to vote Green.

The reaction of local Labour leaders shows the Party in a poor light, and is unlikely to win it friends amongst those Labour and Green voters whose loyalty Labour needs to retain.  Leader of the Labour Group on the City Council, Gill Mitchell, is quoted as this being “get real time” for the Greens.  She claims that Labour will be building on the electoral base and that Labour has “strong local representatives who will get things done in the council”.

Who does she think will be believing her dillusional thinking at this time?  The Greens have so much momentum going forward, and the Green councillors (of whom I have been quite critical) are, member for member, far more impressive than their Labour opposite numbers.  If Labour want to make a positive impression locally, they need to have leadership that can inspire, rather than this tepid lot who are yet to recover from 2008 rout.

Labour are in danger of coming across as poor losers.  Former Brighton Pavilion MP, David Lepper, could not have been less magnanimous in the face of his Party’s defeat.  He said: “I believe it is a good move for the career of Caroline Lucas but bad for the party across the city.  I think they expected to win by more votes and citywide they came fourth.  With a hung parliament, a new election could be only six months away and Caroline will have to defend a very small majority of 1,200”.

I disagree with his bitter analysis.  Regardless of the majority, the Greens won and he should have acknowledged the Green’s historic breakthrough.  Should there be a second election later this year, I would predict a majority of 5,000 plus as scores of Labour voters vote for the policies they support – those of the Greens. 

I was most disappointed at Mr. Lepper’s snide comments regarding Ms Lucas’ personal abilities: “I also think she will find the transition from MEP difficult and has to from the politics of grand gestures to the politics of everyday problems”.

Such bitterness is hardly going to inspire traditional Labour supports (like me) to return to Labour.  Faced with a choice of a party full of sour  recrimination, or a party which is full of confidence (and which is opposed to Trident), the choice is not that difficult.

Labour needs to get its act together.  At the next election, I want to see a Labour victory, and from Brighton and Hove I want to see two Labour and one Green MP’s returned.  To my Labour friends I would say, have a moment to mourn your defeats, but then come out fighting.  The opposition for many of us is the Tories.  You seem to think it is the Greens.  Continue like that  Labour will be all but wiped out in Brighton and Hove next May.

Can the Green Party follow where Caroline Lucas is leading? I have my doubts.

What next for the Green Party? Having made its historic breakthrough by electing Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavilion as its first Westminster MP, it needs to decide where it is now heading.

In Caroline Lucas the Greens have a photogenic, telegenic superstar, highly, highly competent with a single-minded determination to succeed. She has taken the first steps to make her party electable.  Gone are their Principle Speakers, in is a single Leader (her). Environmental issues are treated as equally important and intrinsically linked with the economy and social justice.

But is the Green Party a one woman show?  At the moment, yes, and Caroline and her immediate team must enjoy every moment of this amazing victory.  But the Green Party needs to ensure that it has more, many more, equally impressive individuals. Sadly, some of the Green candidates left a bit to be desired, and the Party did not make the hoped for breakthrough in Lewisham or Norwich.  And there are some policies that some activists hold on to as if they were in possession of the Holy Grail.  For example, the issue of drugs, and decriminalisation in particular,  threatened to upset Caroline’s campaign over the last weekend.  The Greens great strength, of not whipping its councillors, could prove to be its undoing.

Locally, the Greens have an immediate opportunity to build on this success.  Just as the election of Alex Phillips last year provided momentum for the campaign in Brighton Pavilion, so too could Caroline’s election be the springboard for the Greens targeting Brighton and Hove City Council in next year’s elections.

What do they have to do? Recruit, recruit, recruit.  Do so on the back of Caroline’s election. Don’t be passive, get out there.  Get 200 activists out in each of the next four weeks.  Visit every home in Brighton Pavilion and in target wards in Brighton Kemptown and Hove.  I would expect a ‘thank you’ leaflet or letter from Caroline through my door within the week.  Get a street contact in every street in each target ward.  Make sure that the Party’s 13 councillors are seen from now until May 5th 2011 out and about.  Some are incredibly hard working, but some don’t inspire too much confidence.  The campaign for the City Council starts now.

With Caroline Lucas in Parliament, and a Green-controlled Brighton and Hove City Council, that would make very interesting politics.

I write this as a non-Green Party member, historically a Labour supporter, but one who didn’t like New Labour, mistrusts Mandelson, opposes Trident, wishes to see an alternative to cuts, cuts, cuts.  I am someone who is looking to be inspired.  Caroline Lucas did it.  But can her party follow where she has led?

The UK’s Best Politician, according to the Independent’s Johann Hari, is Caroline Lucas

I have made no secret in this blog of my admiration for the Independent’s Johann Hari.  In my opinion, he is the best commentator on British politics and society.  I would encourage you to switch from the dull Guardian to the Independent for Hari alone.

In yesterday’s Independent his attention turned to Brighton Pavilion and to Caroline Lucas.  He has identified her as the UK’s best politician.  He wrote:

“Since 1997, Britain’s emissions of warming gases have actually risen – and if you factor in the emissions from goods now manufactured for us in China, they have risen dramatically. Very few politicians have been honest about the crisis we face, or demanded the swift transition to an economy powered by the power of the sun, the wind and the waves. Working on the inside, the Environment Secretary Ed Miliband has a strong claim to this award, often trying to drag other government departments towards radical low- carbon approaches. But he is, in the end, too tainted by ineffective compromises, and by his sometime promotion of false solutions like the myth of “clean coal”, to clinch it. ”

” The politician who has most inspiringly proposed solutions to the climate crisis is in another party and another parliament altogether. Caroline Lucas joined the Green Party 20 years ago when it had a shabby office and almost no full-time staff. She has played a key role in leading it now to the brink of a historic breakthrough – her probable election in Brighton Pavilion next month as the first Green to the British Parliament. “

Vote for policies or personalities? Vote tactically

There is an excellent website that I commend, http://voteforpolicies.org.uk. By completing the survey based on policies alone, you are advised which party most reflects your views.  Have a go.  You might just be surprised.

Almost 100,000 people have completed the survey and the results are fascinating.  In third place, with 17.12%, is Labour, in second place on 17.99% are the Lib Dems, but the party whose policies enjoy the widest support, on 28.25%, is the Green Party. (The Tories are on 16.28%).

It would be great if people did vote on the basis of policies, but that won’t happen.  In most constituencies most voters will remain true to the main two parties. It often takes a leap of faith for lifelong supporters to transfer their support from their traditional party.

In Brighton Pavilion, those arguing against a Green vote point to Labour’s 5,000 margin of victory in the last general election. Amongst those who argue this is Alexander Craven who regularly comments on this blog: “You shouldn’t neglect the basic fact that Labour had a 5,000 majority in Brighton Pavilion in 2005. And also that most people always vote in terms of the wider national debate.  Let’s be frank. A lot of people here do not see what one Green MP in Parliament could achieve; most people disagree with their policies too.”

On the last point he is right, but as the VoteForPolicies website suggests, there is significantly more support for Green policies than those of Labour.  Having said that, and where I disagree with the Greens, I still hope Labour will be the largest party in the new parliament.

Could a single Green MP make a difference?  You just have to look at Dr Richard Taylor, the Independent MP for Wyre Forrest, who has had a higher profile than any number of anonymous and arguably more influential given his expertise in matters relating to health. And best of all, he is not inhibited by a party whip.  All these apply in equal, if not more, measure to Caroline Lucas.

As for the national debate, this election cannot be seen in the same way as previous ones.  There is a mood to move away from traditional voting trends, for better (Greens and some Independents) and for worse (BNP and UKIP).

It would be great if we could simply vote for policies, but it is most  important that the Tories don’t form a majority Government as this would see a fundamental shift of resources from ordinary (dare I say ‘hard working families’?) to the richest 2%.  So I repeat my call for tactical voting as follows: Eastbourne – Lib Dem, Crawley – Labour, Brighton Pavilion – Green, Brighton Kemptown – Labour, Hastings & Rye – Labour, and Hove – Labour

90 days to go until the General Election – Tactical Voting Campaign needed more than ever

If, as expected, the general election takes place on 6th May, there are just 90 days to go until polling day.  It has been said that a general election is decided by less than 100,000 voters, those ‘swing’ voters in key marginals whose votes decide which party gets a majority.  In some constituencies, like Arundel, a monkey with a blue rosette would gain a majority – and in the past it seems that this has happened!

But tactical voting can change that.  Perviously this blog has called for tactical voting in eight of the sixteen Sussex seats.  There is a danger that all sixteen seats could go Conservative, but with tactical voting Sussex could yet return eight non-Conservatives.

The key seats are: Lewes (Tactical vote for the Lib Dem Norman Baker); Eastbourne (again Lib Dem Stephen Lloyd); Hastings and Rye (Labour Michael Foster); Hove (Labour’s Celia Barlow); Brighton Kemptown (tight call between Labour’s Simon Burgess and the Green’s Ben Duncan); Brighton Pavilion (the Green’s Caroline Lucas); Crawley (Labour’s Laura Moffatt); and Worthing East and Shoreham (Labour’s Emily Benn).

This blog previously called for tactical voting in Worthing East and Shoreham for the Lib Dems, but such is the disorganisation and incompetence of that party in West Sussex that it has yet to select a candidate!  The website for the Worthing Lib Dems is one of the most inadequate websites I have ever seen.  The campaigns tag takes you to an empty page! It demonstrates that the Lib Dems cannot be taken seriously as the third party of British politics and should really stand aside in key seats such as Brighton Pavilion and Worthing East and Shoreham.  Therefore, this blog is changing its recommendation and is calling for tactical voting for Labour’s Emily Benn, granddaughter of Tony Benn and niece of Hilary Benn.  Alas, she does not share their politics.

By contrast, the website of the Lib Dem candidate in Worthing West and Arun, Hazel Thorpe, is lively and impressive.  Unfortunately, Hazel (who I personally admire) has little chance of success but nevertheless, this blog urges all Labour and Green supporters to vote tactically for Hazel Thorpe.

My next blog will review the two Brighton seats.